Erie County lawmakers host roundtable on opioid spending plans

Aug 10, 2017

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid addiction crisis a "national emergency." Those welcoming the declaration hope it will soon lead to more federal investment in treatment and prevention programs. Meanwhile, Erie County lawmakers spent time Thursday hearing feedback from agencies, - including some whose funding proposals were turned down - on a plan to spend one million dollars for response programming.

President Trump's announcement came two days after his drug commission made the recommendation to declare an emergency. He told reporters in New Jersey the opioid crisis is a "serious problem, the likes of which we have never had" and would draft related documents.

Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney speaks at the far end of the table as a room filled with lawmakers and advocates listen. The Erie County Legislature hosted a roundtable discussion of opioid addiction response programs. The meeting coincided with President Trump's declaration of the opioid crisis as a "national emergency."
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Shortly before the president's announcement, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz had criticized Trump for inaction during a news conference on the Erie County Fairgrounds. He later welcomed the president's declaration, though he wished it would have been two days sooner.

"It's important that the president took this action because it will put pressure on Congress," Poloncarz said. "But it also gives the departments under the president additional power. He can take additional steps, additional actions, to address the opiate epidemic."

The declaration came on the same day that members of the Erie County Legislature hosted a roundtable discussion on opioid addiction and their plan to spend one million dollars to support response programs. A portion of that money, under the plan, will be allocated to agencies who earn the funds through a proposal process. The Legislature received 13 proposals.

"We hearing from all the organizations to see if the $500,000 that has been allocated ... if we're doing the best we can, the most bang for our buck if you will, to address this issue," said Legislator Lynne Dixon. 

Only one proposal, by Evergreen Health, has been approved so far. The county's Health Department and Mental Health Department are recommending approval of two more bids, one to Neighborhood Health Center and the other to the International Institute. The latter seeks to address human trafficking that involves addiction as a means to entrap victims.

Avi Israel, who founded the Save The Michaels Foundation in memory of his late son, suggested his organization's proposal didn't get a fair review but has the partners and people in place to make an immediate impact on families with loved ones seeking help.

Israel identified BestSelf, formerly Lakeshore Behavioral Health, among the partners and told reporters outside the meeting that 18 doctors are ready to assist with their strategy, providing on-demand treatment at a moment's notice. 

"A person who is addicted can come right now and say 'please help me right this minute' but if they don't find the help that they need at that moment's notice, they'll go right back into using again," he said. "They'll go right back into stealing, or whatever it is that they do, because addiction controls them."

Israel's son, Michael, committed suicide after finding himself unable to get into immediate treatment. He noted that Wednesday would have been his son's 27th birthday.