Brown Calls for Creation of Tactical Diversion Squads in Ohio to Assist with Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic
In Wake of News that DOJ is no Longer Providing States with Funding to Clean Up Meth Labs, Brown Presses for Resources to Crack Down on Ohio’s Growing Meth Lab Crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following a request from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Attorney General Eric Holder today agreed to work with the State of Ohio in an effort to establish Ohio-based tactical diversion squads to help the state crack down on ‘pill mills’ and prescription drug abuse. At a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science hearing today, Brown also pressed Holder for answers on funding for programs that clean up methamphetamine labs. As of February 25th, federal funding from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to states for meth lab cleanup is no longer available.
“Now is not the time to retreat on our war against the prescription drug epidemic, which is costing Ohio families, communities, and taxpayers,” Brown said. “Drug abuse has hit Ohio particularly hard—from Oxycontin to Vicodin to methamphetamine, it’s clear that this epidemic won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s nothing short of shocking that considering the enormous drug abuse problem in our state, that our state has no Ohio-based tactical diversion squads to help deal with this crisis. That’s why I asked Attorney General Holder to work with me and my state to establish tactical diversion squads as well as provide federal backing to clean up meth labs. I fully intend to work with him and the Department of Justice in the coming months to establish a tactical diversion squad and help combat this epidemic.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, 300 meth labs were seized in Ohio last year, with cleanup costs averaging $1,800 per site. Brown asked Holder to explain why the DOJ has stopped state funding for meth lab cleanups and asked him to work with Congress to make this funding available to states like Ohio again.
Pill Mills & Tactical Diversion Squads
At the hearing, Brown also 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. A transcript of the exchange between Brown and Holder follows.
Sen. Sherrod Brown: Let me talk about one other issue, actually two other issues. Both the pill mills and what’s happened around the country. Ohio’s seen huge increases in—larger in many places than the rest of the country—the abuse of morphine-based drugs: Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, a whole bunch of drugs. We’re working with the Medicaid Director in Ohio to establish a lock-in program for high-risk individuals. We need law enforcement help in this, obviously. There are currently thirty-seven operational tactical diversion squads nationwide, not one of them based in Ohio, the 7th largest state in the country. Can we work together with local law enforcement to perhaps create that in Ohio so that we can join much of the rest of the country in that kind of assistance?
Attorney General Holder: Sure, I’d be glad to work with you about how we deploy our resources. That is something that we have devoted a great deal of attention to and have come up with ways in which I think we are fighting a problem that exists in a great many states. But I’d be glad to sit down and talk to you about ways in which we might deal, and help you with the problem, the issue 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.
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.