RAVENNA -- Members of Portage County's sales and use tax subcommittee heard a project proposal last week on how to address the heroin and opioid epidemic.

The proposal, one of six vying for a portion of revenues generated by the 0.25 percent tax imposed by Portage County commissioners, was submitted to the committee for review in February. The five-year tax is expected to generate roughly $5 million annually.

Staff members from University Hospitals Portage Medical Center and Coleman Professional Services presented their plan for a comprehensive, integrated medical model of prevention and treatment. In total, the first year of the program would cost $701,000, and between $504,000 and $680,000 the following years.

Essentially, the proposal is to hire two medical staff members for use in the hospital, plus implement a supplemental education program in Portage school districts

The medical staff includes a care navigator and a peer recovery coach that would function like case managers, the former inside the hospital to access patients post-detoxification and the latter in the community to act as a mentor after they're released from the hospital.

UH East Region President M. Steven Jones, a member of the committee, said the hospital -- "a landing place" for substance abuse patients -- is legally required to assess the patient and provide critical care, but no follow-up is required. That time period is when many users and addicts relapse, he said.

"The ER is on the front line trying to figure out what to do next," he said. "We're really good at medical care, but the bigger challenge is what do you do with where it's gray, where you've got significant addiction or mental health issues.

"It's where we need to work with our partners. How to we collaborate where it's not just the hospital? How can we work with other agencies across the county to create a continuum of care?"

Bill Russell, chief officer for Coleman Professional Services, said the system has been piloted in Lima, with success and has been expanding elsewhere also.

"It's made a huge impact there, so much so that they're moving this program out into the community," Russell said. "When you pair this program with the comprehensive early education and prevention model, we have the opportunity to catch many many people who have slipped through the cracks."

Joel Mowrey, executive director of the Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Board and chairman of the committee, said MHRB currently funds outpatient programs out-of-county because there isn't a service available in Portage. Most detox at Oriana House, "but they get lost" because aftercare does not exist.

The second aspect of the UH proposal involves a science-based, K-12 "Brain Power!" curriculum developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It works in tandem with D.A.R.E. and Too Good For Drugs programs to address all areas of learning, from social-emotional to education of addiction and how drugs affect the brain.

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156