BUDGET: Drugs take toll in county

Discussions over the Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department’s 2018 budget quickly turned to drug abuse — and with good reason.

Christine Schuyler, county Health and Human Services director, told legislators roughly 75 percent of the county’s 360 Child Protective Services investigations involve drug use by parents. Having those children returned to parents if they are taken out of a home is difficult, Schuyler said, because federal law mandates permanency for children within 24 hours. Children ripped from their homes need higher levels of care than a relative or a foster family can bear, meaning they have to be sent to residential treatment centers or therapeutic foster homes — a fact reflected in the lengthy stays and increased numbers that created an unanticipated $400,000 bill from the state the county learned of a few weeks ago.

Combine Schuyler’s discussion with legislators with their discussions of the Sheriff’s Department and public defender and district attorney budgets and we begin to see just how much the county’s drug problem is wearing on the county already as county departments deal with the symptoms of drug abuse.

How is the county treating the disease itself?

County Executive Vince Horrigan included a program in his 2018 budget for four fully funded positions for Mental Hygiene Health Homes so individuals with substance abuse issues have same-day access to county mental hygiene clinics. Schuyler told legislators earlier this week that prevention must be a top priority so that children are kept out of the child welfare and criminal justice systems. We hope these and other local programs progress quickly. After all, the only way to reduce the strain drugs are placing on the county is to lessen demand. The county must move quickly on things that it can control while state and federal actors with more resources work to improve the availability of treatment services.

Chautauqua County has made progress on its drug problem in recent years. Schuyler’s sobering discussion with county legislators only reinforces that the county still has a lot of heavy lifting in front of it before the effects of addiction are significantly reduced.