WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following the news that seven drug dealers in Ohio have been busted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for forging prescriptions for pain medication, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced the establishment of two tactical diversion squads in Cleveland and Columbus that will help crack down on pain pill trafficking in Ohio.
At a March 2011 hearing of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Brown urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to work with Ohio’s law enforcement agencies to establish tactical diversion squads in the state. Following a verbal agreement to work together to combat prescription drug abuse in Ohio, Brown sent a letter to Holder urging him to establish two Ohio-based tactical diversion squads to help the state crack down on “pill mills” and prescription drug-related crimes. As of March 2011, there were 37 operational tactical diversion squads nationwide, but none were based in Ohio. Late last year, the U.S. Justice Department, at Brown’s request, began establishing squads in both Cleveland and Columbus.
“Today’s news is one more piece of evidence that our state is on the front lines of the prescription drug problem. It’s clear that Ohio needs all the resources it can get to combat pain pill trafficking,” Brown said. “The Justice Department is stepping up by establishing tactical diversion squads in Cleveland and Columbus to help crack down on this epidemic, which has torn apart an untold number of Ohio families and communities. By working with state and local law enforcement, the federal government is playing a key role in reducing the number of needless deaths and overdoses caused each year by prescription drug abuse.”
The Prescription Drug Epidemic in Ohio
Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Ohio. Ohio is second only to Florida in the number of oxycodone prescriptions filled and Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisoning increased more than 350 percent from 1999 to 2008. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes and suicide for the first time on record. Prescription pain medications, such as oxycodone, morphine, and methadone, are largely responsible for increasing numbers of overdoses and deaths in Ohio.
Community leaders in southern Ohio and rural counties across the state have expressed concerns about the increasing problems with drug abuse and often attribute the rise in abuse to drug diversion (the unlawful channeling of regulated drugs from medical sources to the illicit marketplace of pain medications), doctor shopping (using multiple prescribers), and pill mills (doctors, pharmacies, or illegal pain clinics that prescribe and dispense prescription drugs inappropriately or for non-medical reasons or personal financial gain).
Both the Strickland and Kasich Administrations in Ohio have advocated for thorough and comprehensive approaches to combat prescription drug abuse. Governor Strickland established a task force that produced strong recommendations for combating this issue, and Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced several initiatives aimed at cracking down on the “pill mills” that offer easy—and illegal—access to prescription pain medications.
Brown’s Work to Combat Prescription Drug Abuse
Brown is working to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and Medicaid fraud in Ohio on all fronts. Last year, Brown joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation to reauthorize the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Drug Reporting (NASPER) Act, a prescription drug monitoring program critical to combating the abuse of prescription drugs. Sen. Brown has also joined his colleagues in introducing legislation that would prevent teenagers from gaining access to discarded prescription drugs by permitting individuals and long-term care facilities to deliver unused drugs for safe disposal and by expanding drug “take-back” programs.
He is also the author of the Stop Trafficking of Pills Act (STOP Act), which would require national adoption of a Medicaid Lock-In program and directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a similar program in Medicare. Lock-In programs prevent convicted prescription drug abusers and high-risk patients from visiting multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain and fill prescriptions. This enables the close monitoring needed to prevent high-risk patients from personally abusing or selling opioids on the taxpayers’ dime. In May 2011, Brown appeared before a Senate committee to discuss Ohio’s prescription drug epidemic and to call for the implementation of a Federal Medicaid Lock-In program.
Brown’s office convened a first-of-its-kind roundtable in March 2010 that brought together federal officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, state officials from the Attorney General's office, Department of Health, and Department of Jobs and Family Services, and community leaders to discuss the issue of drug abuse in southern Ohio.