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Monday, November 22, 2010

Ohio Pill Mill Legislation - Where Are We?

What is going on? Someone tell me. Creating a sense of urgency for action is paramount to saving lives in Ohio, one of the states held in high regard as representing the heartland of America. It seems the legislature in Ohio needs a reality check because the state has begun a rapid decline for concern in the quality of life for its inhabitants. Is Ohio a state without pity or merely a place facing a pitiful state?

These days, Ohio ranks 27th in the nation in violent crimes per 100,000 people while neighboring West Virginia is 39th and neighboring Kentucky is 40th. (Census, 2006) People in Ohio face increasing danger from all types of criminal activity, and the vast majority of all crime in the Buckeye State is the result of drugs.

In particular, Southern Ohio is riddled with monstrous criminal activity and drug abuse. For example, in Scioto County about 90% of all crime is drug related. The current increase in prescription drug abuse is astronomical. Poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness contribute to addiction.

These problems need to be addressed with prompt, comprehensive legislation aimed at prevention, enforcement, and treatment before the situation becomes even worse. Concerned citizens are attempting to take the proper measures to stem the tide of destructive behavior.

In April, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed an executive order that expanded the state's role and established a more comprehensive, coordinated approach to combating prescription drug abuse across Ohio.The executive order established a task force to help unite the ongoing efforts at the federal, state and local levels, and build on their work to address this rising problem.

"Prescription drug abuse is made possible by several different actors," Strickland said.  "Much of this abuse is fed by pill mills--where prescriptions and pills are dispensed in exchange for cash. And so to all the pill mills out there making a profit by selling a poison, let me be clear. We're coming for you. What you do is illegal and immoral, and we will fight you with everything we have." The governor was clear with his stern intentions and dedicated to his pledge of prioritizing the issue.

Strickland's order birthed the Ohio Prescription Drug Task Force composed of 33 health and law enforcement officials. George T. Maier, assistant director Ohio Department of Public Safety, chaired the task force. Dr. Alvin D. Jackson, director of Ohio's department of health, was vice chair.

The task force immediately addressed the need for quick action. The alarming statistics were sobering.“An average of four Ohioans die each day from a prescription drug related overdose,” said Alvin D. Jackson M.D. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes and suicide for the first time. In Ohio, there were 327 fatal unintentional drug overdoses in 1999, which grew to 1,351 deaths in 2007. ("Ohio Releases Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force Report," Governor of Ohio, October 5 2010)

Legislators told Ohio News Network (ONN) they wanted to introduce a bill to crack down on problem pain clinics before the session ended in June. That way, they could aggressively get their bill moving in the fall when Senate sessions resumed. This initial act was accomplished so that the task force could meet and iron out all the specifics of the bill during the summer.

With commendable dedication, the task force began working at a fever pitch.Over their first six months, the Task Force convened 10 full meetings and 15 Work Group meetings. Members from a diverse group of professional backgrounds and perspectives worked together to develop a report of recommendations to address Ohio’s complex prescription drug abuse epidemic.

These recommendations reflected hundreds of hours of discussion and debate and represented the consensus of the members of the Task Force.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland received the Ohio Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force’s (OPDATF) final report on October 5, which included 20 recommendations to the Governor and leaders of the General Assembly. He said, “I want to thank the Task Force for its collaborative, thoughtful approach to addressing this epidemic.  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.”

Then came the November election, and Ted Strickland was defeated by John Kasich with 49 percent of the vote to Strickland’s 47 percent. Kasich takes office January 10, 2011.

Now, the next step for legislators was debate and passage of the bill BUT unfortunately, after the election, a so-called "lame duck" session soon began. Joe Guillen of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reported, "State lawmakers came back to work last week after a four-month summer break, but they don’t seem eager to get much accomplished before the end of the year. It’s not for lack of opportunity. There are plenty of issues lawmakers could address, including the foreclosure crisis, the financially troubled pension funds and the state’s human trafficking laws." (Joe Guillen, "State Lawmakers Likely To Accomplish Little Before the End of the Year," The Plain Dealer, November 15 2010)

Does the lack of mention for adoption of pain clinic reform mean the issue is on indefinite hold? Are different priorities favored by the new administration? How long will needless deaths occur before action?

Kasich, a former congressman, campaigned on promises to cut taxes and the size of state government, and has said he would take steps to eliminate the state income tax. But he hasn't provided details about when and how he would do that. He has also promised he would restore a 4.2 percent income tax cut that Strickland delayed last year in order to balance the budget. But, it's not clear where the $850 million for that would come from.

As far as drug issues, Governor-elect Kasich voted YES on prohibiting needle exchange & medical marijuana in DC. (Oct. 1999). Other than that glimpse, Kasich offers the following record on crime:
  • Columbine: Community involvement, not new laws. (May 1999)
  • Voted NO on funding for alternative sentencing instead of more prisons. (Jun 2000)
  • Voted YES on more prosecution and sentencing for juvenile crime. (Jun 1999)
  • Voted NO on maintaining right of habeas corpus in Death Penalty Appeals. (Mar 1996)
  • Voted YES on making federal death penalty appeals harder. (Feb 1995)
  • Voted NO on replacing death penalty with life imprisonment. (Apr 1994)
  • Supports capital punishment for certain crimes. (Aug 2010)
  • More prisons, more enforcement, effective death penalty. (Sep 1994) 
The people of Southern Ohio expect swift action by state representatives. At the rate of four deaths a day, the senseless slaughter is unacceptable. Just in case people do not think Scioto County is active in the state fight for drug abuse legislation, here is a summary of a portion of action within the last year:

* Establishment of the Scioto County Rx Drug Abuse Action Team - meetings monthly

* Establishment of SOLACE (Surviving Our Loss And Continuing Everyday - drug-related death)

* Establishment of Facebook group Fix the Scioto County Problem of Drug Abuse

* Community events - National Day of Prayer, Law Enforcement Day, SOLACE commemoration of drug victims, Martings Window Display of Victims, Rockin' Back to School Concert, Red Cross Heroes Breakfast - Lisa Roberts and JoAnna Krohn, SOLACE recognition at statehouse in Columbus 

* Pill Mill Protests at ten locations within the county

* Moratorium Resolution passage supporting no new pain clinics within Portsmouth City limits

* Multiple membership on Ohio Prescription Drug Task Force

* Numerous articles and media reports -- Portsmouth Daily Times, ONN (Ohio News Network), Columbus Dispatch, WSAZ

* Multiple raids on pill mill operations from law enforcement - local, state and federal groups

* Coordinated letter writing and phone calling campaigns to politicians urging action on drug abuse

* Networking efforts for public information on drug abuse

* Multiple educational programs for local schools and citizens  

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