WASHINGTON, D.C. –An Associated Press news report detailing increasing numbers of “prescription tourists” traveling to Georgia—often from Ohio—to obtain prescription painkillers has spurred U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to urge the state’s governor, Nathan Deal, to act to crack down on “pill mills” in Georgia.
“If all states do not take tough actions, efforts to crack down on pill mills become like a game of Whac-A-Mole—as soon as one disappears, another one pops up,” Brown said. “Pain clinics closing in Florida have simply been reopening in nearby Georgia, offering ‘prescription tourists’ from Ohio and other states easy access to addictive and often-deadly prescription drugs. In order to stem the flow of prescription drugs from Georgia to Ohio, Governor Deal must act to quickly and aggressively to combat this epidemic.”
“In addition, a Medicaid Lock-In program would help stop Medicaid prescription drug fraud and ensure that Ohio taxpayers are not financing criminal activity or feeding drug addiction. We need to put an end to the doc-shopping and pharmacy-hopping that are fueling this crisis,” Brown added.
In a letter sent to Gov. Deal today, Brown wrote: “Too often, pills that are illegally obtained in Georgia find their way to my home state of Ohio. I urge you to take steps to aggressively monitor prescription oxycodone and opioids in your state in order to combat the national prescription drug abuse epidemic. Failure to act aggressively in Georgia to eradicate pills mills and prevent these abuses will only sustain the drug pipeline that leads to Ohio.”
Last year, Brown urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to reverse course in his efforts to eliminate Florida's prescription drug monitoring program and help keep the flow of highly-addictive and illegal prescription drugs out of Ohio. At the time, Brown noted the prescription drug pipeline in Florida supplies Ohio and other states with Oxycodone along the I-75 corridor. In a story published earlier this week, the Associated Press noted that “Florida for years was a popular destination because of its virtually unregulated pain clinic industry, which provided easy access to thousands of painkillers marketed under names like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet” but that as the state cracks down on those clinics, pill mills “have migrated to states like Georgia, which had practically none three years ago and now has as many as 150.”
Brown 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.
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.
Brown is working to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and Medicaid fraud in Ohio on all fronts. He cosponsored the Strengthening and Focusing Enforcement to Deter Organized Stealing and Enhance Safety Act (SAFE DOSES Act). This bipartisan bill would prohibit stealing, fraudulently obtaining, or trafficking a medical product, such as prescription drugs; increase penalties for “fences,” when someone knowingly purchases stolen property and later resells it in the legitimate market; enhance civil penalties for profits made off of stolen products; increase criminal penalties when death occurs as a result of a stolen substance; and put pharmaceutical theft under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Correct Organization) law, which has been effective in breaking up organized crime.
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.
The full text of the letter is below and can be seen here.
The Honorable Nathan Deal
Office of the Governor
State of Georgia
206 Washington Street
Suite 203, State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Dear Governor Deal:
I would like to draw your attention to a recent article published by the Associated Press, “States fight 'tourists' trafficking painkillers,” which chronicled how individuals are traveling to out-of-state medical clinics – or “pill mills” – that unlawfully provide them with opioid prescriptions. The article notes that as Florida has cracked down on these pill mills, there has been an increasing number of them in Georgia. Too often, pills that are illegally obtained in Georgia find their way to my home state of Ohio. I urge you to take steps to aggressively monitor prescription oxycodone and opioids in your state in order to combat the national prescription drug abuse epidemic. Failure to act aggressively in Georgia to eradicate pills mills and prevent these abuses will only sustain the drug pipeline that leads to Ohio.
I represent Ohio, a state which is directly impacted by the pervasiveness of illegal clinics in states like Georgia. Prescription drug abuse is devastating communities throughout our states. From 1999 to 2010, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisoning increased more than 372 percent. In 2008, Oxycodone and other opioids caused more overdoses in Ohio than heroin and cocaine combined and in 2007, unintentional drug poisoning surpassed motor vehicle crashes and suicide and became the leading cause of injury death for the first time on record. These disturbing numbers illustrate why it is critical that we must work cooperatively at the federal, state, and local levels to combat and treat the abuse of prescription narcotics.
In Ohio, both the Strickland and Kasich Administrations have advocated for thorough and comprehensive approaches to combating prescription drug abuse. Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Agency established a tactical diversion squad in northern Ohio to address this epidemic, and U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach of Cleveland prosecuted one of the largest prescription drug trafficking cases in the country. In 2011, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 93 to regulate the licensure of pain clinics and instructed the State Medical Board to create guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain. Further, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has worked cooperatively with the Drug Enforcement Agency to crack down on clinics operating outside the law.
I urge you to follow their lead and work cooperatively with your state legislature and local governments to limit the supply of unlawfully prescribed and dispensed prescription drugs. This epidemic requires a multi-pronged approach, focusing on prevention, treatment, and interdiction. Ohio’s efforts to combat drug abuse demonstrate the great strides that can be made with the collaboration of federal, state, and local organizations. Your decisions on this issue have serious national implications, and I urge you to be aggressive in your efforts to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic.