New agency a wise approach

Ohio is taking a step, on paper, at least, to cope with one of the most infuriating aspects of government – agencies that waste money in duplicating efforts, often sacrificing effectiveness in the process.

For years, the state had a Department of Mental Health and an Alcohol and Drug Addiction Service agency. That ended when the new state Department of Health & Addiction Services was created by merging the two old entities.

Alcohol and drug addiction are mental illnesses, in many ways. It is only common sense to treat them as such. And mental illness often leads to substance abuse.

Skeptics may wonder whether the merger was intended primarily as a way to say money. It was not. The new agency has a $1.4 billion budget for the coming two years. Only about $3 million is being saved through efficiencies expected by combining the agencies.

Behind them, officials of the new department will have about 2,400 employees. The change is not expected to result in layoffs.

Unfortunately, the new department faces quite a challenge dealing with substance abuse. Tens of thousands of Ohioans are hooked on alcohol, prescription medicines and illegal drugs. That can ruin their lives as well as those of family members. And as local residents understand, innocent victims can suffer from drug-related crime.

As many as 5.5 percent of Ohioans ages 18-25 are dependent on alcohol or other drugs, according to federal officials. Even more distressing, the dependence rate for those 12-17 is about 2.5 percent.

Alcohol remains the primary culprit, as has been the case for many years. But marijuana, prescription opioids and sedatives also get many Ohioans hooked.

Combining the two state entities to form a new department dealing with both mental illness and substance abuse – and avoiding the temptation to save money by slashing resources – is a smart approach in Ohio. Again, however, the growing problem with substance abuse will require decisive, creative initiatives to stem the growing tide of dependence sweeping the Buckeye State.