Ohio lawmakers work to address drug epidemic

By Ryan Carpe rcarpe@civitasmedia.com

March 3, 2014

DARKE COUNTY – Ohio lawmakers have recently backed several acts and initiatives addressing the escalating illegal prescription drug and heroin epidemic, with additional legislation fitting prominently in their agenda.

And with good reason.

The Ohio Department of Health sites statistics showing that from 1999 to 2011, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug overdoses increased 440 percent.

And in 2007, drug overdoses became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record. The trend occurred again in 2010.

According to Darke County Coroner Tim Kathman, the regional problem has reached “meteoric” levels.

“Ten years ago, three to five percent of the autopsies that we did in the county were drug related deaths,” he said. “Last year 31 percent of the autopsies performed in Darke County were drug related deaths. So far in 2014, all of the autopsies that that I’ve requested or authorized for suspected drug (related activity).”

Recently, four bills have been passed through the Ohio House of Representatives within the last two months dealing with the drug epidemic: House Bill 314, House Bill 315, House Bill 399 and House Bill 367.

Just last week, the Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 366 to prevent opioid abuse by requiring hospice programs to establish procedures to prevent the diversion of the drugs.

“This bill is to help ensure that painkillers do not fall into the wrong hands—especially of someone who struggles with addiction,” said Representative Robert Sprague (R-Findlay), who sponsored the bill. “We too often find that leftover prescriptions are not properly disposed of or stored, meaning they have the potential to be misused by someone who they were not prescribed to.”

Specifically, House Bill 366 would mandate certain hospice programs to follow a set of best practices, including establishing a written policy containing procedures for the disposal of medications.

To stem the problem, several pieces of legislation were designed to deal specifically with prescription drugs, which are often a precursor to stronger, more addictive narcotics.

Ohio House Bill 314, sponsored by Representatives Nan Baker (R-Westlake) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), passed on Jan. 15 and would require a prescriber to receive a signed form of consent from a guardian before issuing a controlled substance prescription to a minor.

“Ensuring that parents know what their children have been prescribed will help us stop problematic behavior before it even has the opportunity to take place,” Rep. Kunze said. “Parents play the most important role in helping to prevent drug addiction—not only through conversations with their children, but through the actions they take to protect their children. This bill is one more way to protect our youth.”

Under the provisions of House Bill 314, the consent form would be separate from other documents seeking consent for treatment, would include the number of refills the prescriber has authorized, and would be maintained in the minor’s medical record.

Some legislators are pushing for greater awareness in the school setting.

On Jan. 29, the Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 399 to raise awareness of prescription drug abuse in Ohio by designating the first Friday of May as “Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness and Education Day.”

The bill was sponsored by Representative Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) and Mike Sheehy (D-Toledo), and focuses on establishing one day to focus on efforts to prevent the problem of addiction to opioids and other drugs.

“The prescription drug abuse epidemic has been growing under the current structure of our medical system and addiction treatment system,” said Rep. Sprague. “By designating a specific day to draw attention to this issue, we can raise awareness around the dangers of prescription medications.”

The need to have reliable statistics regarding the addiction is also crucial to addressing the drug problem.

House Bill 315 would require maternity units, nurseries and maternity homes to report the number of newborns dependent on opioids to the Ohio Department of Health on a quarterly basis, which would w act as a measurement to determine state addiction rates.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), and was passed through the Ohio House of Representatives on Jan. 22.

“Reporting the number of babies addicted to drugs will help us to track the progress Ohio is making in the fight against drug addiction,” said Rep. Wachtmann. “It’s one of the best ways to find and measure the patterns of drug use that are beginning to unfold at any given point in time. If we know where and when the problem is, we can do something about it.”

And the aforementioned legislative acts are only the bills that have been passed so far, while lawmakers are working feverishly to address the growing issues.

House Bill 359, which is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health and Aging, would require prescribers to provide an information sheet to any patient being prescribed certain addictive drugs,which would disclose the potentially harmful nature of its properties.

House Bill 367, which is currently assigned to the House Committee on Education, would require all school districts to include a curriculum about opioids to inform students on how dangerous and addictive they are.

And earlier this year, Governor Kasich launched a program called Start Talking!, which encourages parents to have regular conversations with their children about drug abuse in an effort prevent future addiction.

While these programs may carry an additional cost, they’d likely be outweighed by the projected societal cost of the drug overdose epidemic, which is estimated to be over $3.5 billion annually in Ohio.

“Drugs, particularly substances like heroin, cocaine and prescriptions, are causing big problems for Ohio’s families and high costs on the state’s taxpayers,” said Representative Jim Buchy (R-84th).