COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Monday the first executive director of OneOhio Recovery Foundation, a statewide organization dedicated to ending the opioid epidemic.

Alisha Nelson, the director of behavioral health strategy for Humana, was named OneOhio’s top leader during a news conference on Monday. Previously the director of RecoveryOhio, DeWine emphasized Nelson’s history of working to improve mental health and substance use recovery support services in Ohio. 

“For more than 16 years, Alisha has turned her passion and life experiences into a career promoting and developing policies that support long-term recovery and the advancement of the behavioral health field,” DeWine said Monday.

When DeWine served as Ohio Attorney General, Nelson led the office’s anti-drug efforts. Before then, she spent eight years working for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and a Master’s of Business Administration from Ohio Dominican University.

Launched in 2021, OneOhio is statewide nonprofit overseeing plants to distribute a portion of settlement funds from the drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids, as a consequence of their role in the national epidemic. DeWine said OneOhio’s mission is to “sort out how should this money be best spent, and how can it be spent over a long period of time to have the most impact.”

“The goal is, [OneOhio] will rely on experts, they will look at immediate problems, but they will also look at long term problems,” said DeWine. “The things we can be doing in Ohio that we’re not doing that will have a long term, lasting impact.”

OneOhio ensures a settlement recognizing that every corner of the state has been hit hard by the crisis and outlines how the funds can be used. Fifty-five percent of all Ohio settlement dollars will go directly to the OneOhio Recovery Foundation for addiction abatement and to promote mental wellness.

Nelson echoed DeWine’s goal to reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic on Ohio’s families, and emphasized the organization’s commitment to transparency, including conducting its business in an open manner. Board meetings are typically held monthly and are open to the public to watch live.

“It’s important for us, we know how many families have been impacted by this crisis,” said Nelson. “To make sure that every dollar spent is made and done in a transparent matter, so our board is committed to that and I am as well.”

In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record, according to the Ohio Department of Health. This trend has continued through 2020, also the highest year for drug overdose deaths in Ohio, with 5,017 deaths. 

DeWine also reaffirmed on Monday, his nominee for the director of the new Department of Children and Youth, Kara Wente. She has been director of the governor’s children’s initiative since January of 2023. Prior to her appointment, Wente served as the chief operating officer for Future Ready Columbus.

“Kara has spent her career advocating for the health, safety, and well-being of Ohio’s children,” said DeWine. “I am confident that as we bring programs together to form this new department, she will ensure that we are focusing on seamlessly providing children the supports and services they need to reach their God-given potential.”

Wente holds a Master’s in Education and Allied Professions from the University of Dayton and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from The Ohio State University.

The Department of Children and Youth was established in the 2023-2024 operating budget and will focus on the efficient and effective delivery of services to Ohio’s more than 2.5 million children and their families.