CLEVELAND, OH—With prescription painkiller abuse on the rise in Ohio—and the growing theft of these drugs at pharmacies in Ohio and nationwide—U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today joined the owner of a Fairview Park pharmacy to outline legislation that would help crack down on these drug robberies and stiffen the penalties for pharmaceutical theft.
“Drug addicts have shown that they will stop at nothing to feed their addiction—whether by targeting and bribing senior citizens to get access to painkillers or through the outright theft of these drugs from pharmacies,” Brown said. “We must equip local and federal law enforcement with the right tools to crack down on pharmaceutical theft, including tougher jail sentences for these criminals. Not only will this help keep prescription painkillers off our streets and out of the hands of abusers, but it will help protect pharmacies and their employees from being targeted in these often-violent crimes.”
Brown joined Tom Ohliger, the owner of Ohliger Drug, to outline the Strengthening and Focusing Enforcement to Deter Organized Stealing and Enhance Safety (SAFE DOSES) Act. After his pharmacy was targeted multiple times in prescription drug robberies, Ohliger installed sophisticated security equipment to protect his business. Brown’s 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
- Increases criminal penalties when death occurs as a result of a stolen substance
- Put pharmaceutical theft under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Correct Organization) law, which has been effective in breaking up organized crime.
Drug addicts and criminals are now targeting pharmacies in order to obtain additional painkillers. Just last month, a CVS Pharmacy in Parma was targeted in a robbery, where a criminal made off with $14,000 worth of painkillers before being apprehended by the police. A man wielding a gun robbed a Giant Eagle pharmacy in Solon of prescription medications last year.
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 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). A recent report indicated that drug abusers have begun to target senior citizens to gain access to prescription painkillers.
Brown has led the fight to crack down on prescription drug abuse, including efforts to shutter pill mills and end the practice of “doctor shopping,” and “pharmacy hopping.” Last year, 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. Earlier this year, Brown introduced legislation, the Stop Trafficking of Pills Act (STOP Act), which 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 kind of close monitoring needed to prevent high-risk patients from personally abusing or selling opioids on the taxpayers’ dime. In May, 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.