GEORGETOWN – While out on the trail US Senator Rob Portman visited Cherry Street Eatery in Georgetown to talk to the Republican base here in Brown County.
After delivering his message to the base of the party, Portman sat down with The News Democrat to talk about issues facing Ohio and how important it was to be back in the area that helped launch his career into national politics.
“I did get my start here in 1993 running for the House of Representatives at a time Brown County was mostly a Democratic county and now it’s mostly a Republican county,” Portman said. “I made a lot of good friends and we saw some of them today. It was a great county to represent because whether you’re a Republican or Democrat it’s a bunch of common sense conservative people who know America’s greatness lies not in Washington, but back here at home. People work hard and play by the rules and expect to get ahead, and that’s one thing that has been missing in this administration is the economy is so weak that wages have actually gone down, not up and yet expenses are up.”
Senator Portman said on the campaign trail he is talking with constituents on how to get the economy moving again. He said the poor economic conditions have played a vital role in the drug epidemic that has hit Southern Ohio in recent years.
“Another issues I’ve worked with a lot in Brown County people on including law enforcement is the drug issue,” Portman said. “I will be in Highland County at a drug treatment center here in a couple of hours (Feb. 17).”
Senator Portman co-authored legislation before the Senate to address the drug issue facing the nation and particularly here in Brown County. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 has been touted by the National Association for Addicted Professionals as “the most expansive federal, bipartisan legislation to date for addiction support services, designating up to $80 million toward advancing treatment and recovery support services in state and local communities across the country.”
“My legislation, called CARA, gets right at the issues,” Portman said. “It’s not just an annual money bill. It’s actually a longer-term, what they called a authorization bill, that sets up a structure to be able to continue that kind of funding. We added another $80 million to various diversion programs, including veteran’s courts by the way specifically, but also drug courts. Where you take people who using drugs, not the dealers, but just possession charges and say ‘instead of going to prison you can go to a treatment program but you have to do it and be tested and get clean, we want you to go through a treatment program then a recovery program.’ Those work so much better than just locking people up because the result of that is people come out sometimes worse than when they come in.”
Portman said CARA could help curb Ohio’s increasing overcrowding of the prison and county jail populations. According to the Prosecutor’s office between 80 and 90 percent of all crimes are a direct result of or related to drugs in some way, shape or form. CARA provides funds to help shift from incarceration to treatment.
“In Clermont County they have a pretty aggressive diversion program I saw about a month ago that might be a good model for Brown County,” Portman said. “Basically it says to people if you are willing to get into an intensive treatment program with other offenders, so you are supporting each other, we will let you do that, but you have to stay clean and stay in the program. It has really worked well for them. They have got their prison population down but also they’ve got less crime.”
Portman said that putting those who are addicted into our jails and prison systems without treating them leads to repeat offenses once they are released from incarceration.
“When you think about when that guy is getting out of prison and he’s an addict, he or she is looking to feed that habit and that leads to a lot of crime right now in Southern Ohio. It’s people trying to get money trying to pay for their prescription drugs or heroin.”
Portman said that treating the individuals as opposed to incarceration helps bring them back to their families and can help put them back to work to be productive members of society.
CARA left the Senate Judiciary Committee last week by unanimous vote, something Portman said almost never happens. CARA has received bi-partisan support with 29 co-sponsors to the legislation. Portman said the legislation has support from more than 120 organizations across the country, including the FOP, treatment counselors and judges.
“It’s one bill with a lot of support around it, and I am hopeful we can get it,” Portman said. “I talked to Sheldon Whitehouse, my co-sponor and a Democrat, about the strategy on how we can get it through, even in a partisan senate where there is a lot of gridlock, how do we get it through the process to the President’s desk for his signature,” Portman said.
Drug use and abuse are often not the results of a desire to do drugs, but hopelessness for a better life. Senator Portman said a lack of opportunity has left some feeling hopeless to their situations, but said that heroin in particular knows no economic status or zip code.
“That grip of addiction is so great that it is really hard to break away from it,” Portman said. “It makes people do crazy things.”
Portman thinks that opportunity comes from providing tax reform and regulatory reform to help make a pro-growth economy work across the country, but what will work for Ohio, might not work for California or Montana. But ultimate job growth comes from a more prepared work force.
“I talked a lot this morning to the group in Cincinnati about workers skills and training and getting a skilled work force to fill jobs here in Brown County and grow more of them,” Portman said. “ There is a pro-growth agenda that has to go with this because if you have a rising economy it helps.”
Portman said drug treatment has to come from evidence based, science based research to help get those facing addiction back into a normalcy. He said the federal government cannot just throw money at the problem and hope that is goes away. It has to provide funds for good programs with a record of success.
“It is too temping in Washington sometime to say we will throw some money at the problem and that will solve it,” Portman said. “It has to be based on the best practices around the country and that is something the federal government can do well because we’ve got an eye on the whole country and to provide better research and medication, like Vivitrol, that can be used to fight addiction.