Brown Calls for New Federal Squads to Combat Ohio Prescription Drug Abuse

Brown to Holder: Establish Two Tactical Diversion Squads in Ohio to Fight Pill Mills, Prescription Drug-Related Crimes

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following a verbal agreement to work together to combat prescription drug abuse in Ohio, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent  a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric 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.

According to the Justice Department, tactical diversion squads combine DEA resources with those of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an innovative effort to investigate, disrupt and dismantle those suspected of violating drug laws.

“The prescription drug abuse problem in Ohio is worsening by the day. It’s shocking that as the 7th-largest state in the nation, our state is not home to a single tactical diversion squad to combat this issue—even though our neighbors Kentucky and Michigan are,” Brown said. “That’s why I am urging Attorney General Holder to establish two tactical diversion squads in Ohio—one in the north and one in the south. We must do all we can to stop this epidemic, which has already cost so many lives and futures in Ohio.”

At a hearing last week of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Brown urged Holder to work with Ohio’s law enforcement agencies to establish tactical diversion squads in the state. Tactical diversion squads are federal and state partnerships that devote additional resources to cracking down on drug diversion activities and illegal “pill mills.” While there are currently 37 operational tactical diversion squads nationwide, none are based in Ohio. 

Prescription pain medications, such as Oxycodone, morphine, and methadone, are largely responsible for increasing numbers of overdoses and deaths 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 surpassed motor vehicle crashes and suicide as the leading cause of injury death in Ohio for the first time on record.  

The full letter to Attorney General Holder is below.

Hon. Eric Holder
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

As we discussed last week during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.  While this problem affects every state, it is hitting Ohio especially hard.  Deaths from prescription drug overdoses doubled nationwide between 1999 and 2008.  In Ohio, they tripled.

I have been working with stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level to try and combat this epidemic.  My colleagues and I have introduced legislation to prevent teenagers from gaining access to discarded drugs, to reauthorize prescription drug monitoring programs, and to hike sentences and give law enforcement the additional tools they need to fight back against dangerous and sophisticated prescription drug theft rings.  I am also working with Ohio’s Medicaid Director to establish a “lock-in” program for high-risk individuals that would help prevent prescription drug misuse by assigning one doctor and one pharmacy to high risk prescription drug users.

Despite these efforts, more needs to be done to combat prescription drug crime, addiction, and deaths in Ohio.  Last month, I wrote to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart requesting assistance in cracking down on “pill mills” in Ohio.  One way that DEA and DOJ can assist with “pill mills” is by establishing “Tactical Diversion Squads” in Ohio. My understanding is that these units harness the resources of federal, state and local law enforcement to combat crimes involving the diversion of prescription drugs and other controlled substances.  There are currently 37 operational tactical diversion squads nationwide, but none are based in Ohio. 

During the hearing I asked that we work together with local law enforcement agencies in Ohio to get tactical diversion squads established in Ohio.  In response you agreed to work with me in finding ways that DOJ can help stop the proliferation of prescription drug crimes.  My request is that your efforts include the establishment of at least two Tactical Diversion Squads in Ohio, one in the territory covered by the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Ohio and one in the territory covered by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Thank you for your commitment to help Ohio reduce the prevalence of prescription drug crimes.  I look forward to working with you.

Sen. Brown’s Work to Combat Drug Abuse in Ohio

Brown is working to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in Ohio on all fronts. This week, he signed on to legislation that calls for hiking sentences and giving law enforcement the additional tools they need to fight back against dangerous and sophisticated prescription drug theft rings. He also held a news conference in Cleveland with Mayor Jackson and top law enforcement officials to call for a reversal of the elimination of the COPS methamphetamine program, which provides funds for law enforcement to combat the use and distribution of methamphetamine. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there were more than 800 methamphetamine lab incidents in Ohio between 2002 and 2006.

Earlier this month, Brown wrote a letter urging Florida Governor Rick Scott to maintain the prescription drug monitoring program and help keep the flow of highly-addictive and illegal prescription drugs out of Ohio. The prescription drug pipeline in Florida— a state whose doctors prescribe more pain prescriptions than any other— supplies Ohio and other states with Oxycodone along the I-75 corridor.

Earlier this year, Brown wrote to the Kasich Administration about establishing a Medicaid “lock-in” program, which would enable the Office of Ohio Health Plans to better monitor and control access to prescription drugs that are subject to abuse and trafficking. Last month, Brown wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration, requesting additional federal efforts in cracking down on “pill mills” across Ohio.

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.

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.

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