Porter County taking another costly shot at combating drugs

2014-04-05T20:00:00Z 2014-04-06T22:45:08Z Porter County taking another costly shot at combating drugsBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Porter County officials are not letting mixed results of the past deter them from contributing another sizable chunk of tax dollars to a new effort aimed at combating the continued scourge of illegal drug use.

The Porter County Board of Commissioners have committed $150,000 in local income tax revenue for each of the years 2013-15 to Empower Porter County, which grew out of the Porter County Community Foundation.

"To ignore the drug problem is not an option in my opinion," Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said when questioned about the $450,000 contribution.

"Most importantly our children's lives are at stake," she said. "Also important, doing nothing will only cost more tax dollars down the road."

Blaney is serving as the commissioners' appointment to the Empower board, which she said will allow for oversight. She also said there is widespread involvement in the Empower effort.

Porter County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, also stood behind the value of the contribution.

"Eradicating the drug problem is not easy or inexpensive," he said. "If this or any other intervention measure saves a life, the cost is justified."

The county has had a variety of experiences over the years in funding anti-drug efforts outside the functions of county government.

Officials contributed $200,000 to the Pathway Family drug treatment center that ended up closing its doors locally in July 2009, blaming a weak economy and lack of referrals. Yet another investment during that time of $458,665 to Respite House, a Valparaiso halfway house for drug-addicted men, reportedly paid for itself more than twice over in savings on incarceration costs, according to its officials.

Another big player in the local battle against illegal drug use is the 25-year-old Porter County Substance Abuse Council, which has seen a reduction in its funding from court fees as a result of judges' concerns about the group's priorities, level of transparency and cooperation with others. The group is working with the judges in hopes of improving the relationship. 

Empower Porter County will bring an approach to this collective fight against drug and alcohol abuse by overseeing its three initiatives and and evaluating their effectiveness, Executive Director Heather Harrigan Hitz said.

Those efforts include encouraging families to better connect through shared meals, combating the misuse of prescription drugs by educating healthcare providers and consumers, and fostering a holistic approach to patients care through the integration of medical and behavioral care.

In addition to the $450,000 from the county, Empower is also receiving $25,000 for each of the three years from Valparaiso, Portage and the Porter County Community Foundation; $10,000 for each of the years from the United Way of Porter County and Porter Regional Hospital; and $5,000 each year from NIPSCO for a three-year budget of $750,000.

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