In April 2010, Governor Ted Strickland created the Ohio Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force as a response to startling statistics showing nearly 6,000 people died in Ohio from unintentional drug overdoses between 2004 and 2008. The biggest increases were attributed to prescription pain killers - opiates such as OxyContin or Vicodin.
In response to a state health emergency, the Ohio Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force worked feverishly all summer to write a proposal that would help solve the problem deemed worthy of immediate action. Finally, the group completed their work and presented their comprehensive findings to the state. A report prepared by the task force is moving toward the hands of people who can make it more than 75 pages of background, research and recommendations. A law is needed.
On October 1, Strickland thanked the 31 task force members and pledged to follow their advice.
"We will move quickly to work with the legislature to adopt recommendations that will help combat prescription drug abuse, including implementing standards for pain management clinics, working with providers to improve the use of the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, establishing and supporting local coalitions, and exploring ways to support critical drug and alcohol treatment services for Ohioans," Strickland said in a news release. (Russ Zimmer, "Prescription Drug Report at Statehouse, What Comes Next?" centralohio.com, October 2 2010)
Still, the report is not binding because legislators do not have to introduce bills addressing any of the recommendations.
Ed Hughes, executive director of the Counseling Center in Portsmouth is nervous. A few items figure to draw strong support, such as closing illegitimate pain clinics or conducting public education campaigns. Hughes, chairman of one of the task force's four subgroups, said these are necessary steps, but characterized them as "low-hanging fruit."
"We don't want to give the public the illusion that we've done something," he said. "We could close (all the illegitimate pain clinics) and that's not going to affect the drug problem in Scioto County and that's not going to affect the drug overdose problem in Ohio."
Other proposals from the task force are likely to be more controversial, like expanding treatment capacity, because of the investment required.
Hughes wants the medical community to approach substance abuse like any other underlying condition. "If a patient visits the doctor because of an especially bad bout of the flu but learns of a diabetes condition, it's natural to be referred to a specialist. The same should be done for drug addicts, but it doesn't happen often enough," Hughes said. (Russ Zimmer, "Prescription Drug Report at Statehouse, What Comes Next?" centralohio.com, October 2 2010)
The task force also recommended an increase in and diversification of funding for treatment centers.
Hughes worries those two issues will not make it to the governor's desk or be graced with his signature. They require an infusion of cash - either directly, as in the case of the calls for greater and diversified funding, or indirectly, as in modified protocol for doctors that will increase the number of patients at treatment centers.
Ted Strickland was defeated in his bid for re-election last week. As everyone knows, now a lame duck session (the period every two years between the general election and the end of General Assembly on Dec. 31) may occur. With John Kasich as the new governor and Republicans recapturing the Ohio House by a wide margin, the Republican-controlled Senate may not move a single bill the rest of the year. Senate President Bill Harris has said he is "not aware of any legislation that must be passed by the end of the year."
(Jim Siegal, "Senate Preparing for Very Light Lame Duck Session," The Columbus Dispatch, November 3 2010)
Harris said the one bill he is willing to pass this year would create Vietnam Veterans Day, but only if the state’s various veterans groups can come to an agreement on the issue.
What Does This Mean?
Unless Governor Strickland can exert some quick, significant influence in the Statehouse so that the pain clinic legislation can be passed now, the rx drug od's resulting from pill mills will continue to escalate. The citizens of Ohio should contact Representative Todd Book, Senator Tom Niehaus and Governor Strickland and ask them to pass a law in this session. Also, they should not forget to support Ed Hughes' comments about the importance of drug treatment. Recovery is vital for success.
People have risen from desperate, drug-ridden communities to confront this epidemic health emergency. They have done their homework and have presented their concerns. The stage is now set at the state capital. Without talented actors, no performance will occur. "Lame duck" is an affront. People must hold politicians accountable for their actions and inaction. This legislation is timely and well deserving of Columbus' attention and passage.
I could care less what party is in control. Politicians must learn to compromise and work together for the common good of all the people. In Southern Ohio, our streets reek with the stench of pill mills. We desperately need assistance, both legal and financial, to stifle the widespread illegal distribution of prescription drugs. Those of you who somehow hold this below your concern should educate yourselves with the tremendous costs in jobs, health care, development, and human life we suffer related to rx drug abuse. Wake up, legislators. The limp in "lame duck" is a lousy impediment of your own step. And, a Merry Christmas to all.