WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although prescription drug abuse is on the decline in southern Ohio, painkillers from states like Florida—whose doctors prescribe more pain prescriptions than any other state— are making their way up the prescription drug pipeline, supplying Ohio and other states with Oxycodone along the I-75 corridor. To combat the so-called “Oxy-Express,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called on the National Governors Association (NGA) to follow Ohio’s example and work to choke off the flow of prescription drugs and end the deadly epidemic. In a letter to the NGA, Brown called on the Governors to work with state legislatures and local law enforcement to be proactive in efforts to combat prescription drug abuse.
“Through the combined efforts of federal, state, and local officials, nine illegal clinics or “pill mills” have been driven out of Scioto County, a community that has been severely impacted by this epidemic,” Brown wrote. “I urge you to follow their lead and work cooperatively with your state legislatures and local governments to choke off the supply of unjustifiably prescribed and dispensed prescription pain killers. Your action – or inaction – has national implications, and I urge you to be proactive in your efforts to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic.”
As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, nearly 1.5 million fewer pills were prescribed in Scioto County in 2011, down 15 percent since 2010. In Gallia County, 472,000 fewer doses were prescribed in 2011, down 12 percent from 2010. In June 2011, Brown urged National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske to designate Scioto County as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA). That designation was approved in October 2011.
In 2010, Ohio’s Medicaid program spent $820 million on prescription medicines. While most prescription pain medicines are used as prescribed, some criminals are defrauding the Medicaid system by attempting to acquire multiple prescriptions and filling them at multiple pharmacies – undermining taxpayers and efforts to combat prescription drug abuse.
Brown introduced the Stop Trafficking of Pills Act (STOP Act) to crack down on prescription drug abuse, including pill mills, “doctor shopping,” and “pharmacy hopping.” The bill would require national adoption of a Medicaid Lock-In program. Medicaid Lock-Ins limit 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.
Full text of the letter is below.
February 29, 2012
National Governors Association
Hall of the States
444 N. Capitol St., Ste. 267
Washington, D.C. 20001-1512
I am writing to urge you to take action in your states to combat the national prescription drug abuse epidemic. In the state of Ohio, the death rate due to unintentional drug poisoning increased more than 350 percent from 1999 to 2008. In 2008 Oxycodone and other opioids caused more overdoses in Ohio than heroin and cocaine combined. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes and suicide for the first time on record. Fatal and nonfatal overdoses cost Ohio taxpayers $3.7 billion annually in hospital expenses, lost work time and quality of life measures. These troubling statistics underscore the urgent need to work cooperatively at the federal, state and local levels to combat the diversion and abuse of prescription narcotics.
Both the Strickland and Kasich Administrations have advocated for thorough and comprehensive approaches to combating prescription drug abuse. In 2011 the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 93 to regulate 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. Through the combined efforts of federal, state and local officials, nine illegal clinics or “pill mills” have been driven out of Scioto County, a community that has been severely impacted by this epidemic.
I urge you to follow their lead and work cooperatively with your state legislatures and local governments to choke off the supply of unjustifiably prescribed and dispensed prescription pain killers, and to address the drug dealing and addiction that inevitably follow. To address this epidemic states must balance efforts to prevent, treat, and interdict drug abuse. Ohio’s efforts to combat drug abuse exemplify the great strides that can be made with the collaboration of state and local organizations. Your action – or inaction – has national implications, and I urge you to be proactive in your efforts to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic.