Stricter controls on painkillers sought

Special Ohio House task force votes for law to restrict prescription narcotics


COLUMBUS — Some members of a special Ohio House of Representatives committee studying prescription drug abuse could not have envisioned a few months ago they would vote for a bill authorizing county needle-exchange programs for intravenous drug addicts.

But after hearing testimony on the road about how abuse of narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet has led to a surge in addictions to fellow opiate heroin, committee members are not only recommending such a law, they’ve voted for one.

“Initially, when you begin to abuse prescription drugs, that is a choice. It’s a terrible choice that leads to a horrible, devastating problem,” said state Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), chairman of the House Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Legislative Study Committee.

“But once you are in the throes of your addiction, it’s nearly impossible to help yourself,” he said. “We’ve learned that treatment works. I think it would be safe to say that had we not been on this journey over the last four weeks, I, for one, would have been very skeptical of such an exchange program.”

The House last week voted 72-23 across party lines to authorize county boards of health to set up such programs, without having to declare a state of emergency, as one way to combat hepatitis C, HIV, and other blood-borne infections. The hope is that those showing up to exchange dirty needles for clean ones would be open to prodding toward treatment.

The study committee Thursday proposed getting that bill through the Ohio Senate to Gov. John Kasich’s desk as well as recommendations for legislation to reduce the number of pain pills in a single prescription, require parental approval before minors can receive such prescriptions, and provide state funding for judges’ specialty dockets targeting addicts.

The recommendations follow actions by the General Assembly, Mr. Kasich, and Attorney General Mike DeWine to crack down on illegal pill mills, particularly in southern Ohio, and to better arm doctors to track painkiller prescriptions their patients may have received from other sources.

Drug overdoses have surpassed traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths in Ohio. Some 800 million doses were prescribed last year for 11.5 million Ohioans.

Supporters of expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act have cited greater treatment for substances abusers as one reason to pursue it. The subject came up during the study committee hearings, one of which was held at Toledo Hospital.

“However, that obviously is a topic that is rife with emotion, and we chose on this committee to try to stay on task with what we have been charged with,” Mr. Sprague said. “We chose to stay focused on that.”

The mostly legislative Ohio Controlling Board will vote Monday on Mr. Kasich’s request to draw down $2.56 billion in federal funds over the next year and a half to pay for an estimated 275,000 mostly childless adults to be added to the rolls.

Other task force recommendations included:

●Requiring narcotic painkillers to be prescribed in 10-day increments rather than 30.

●Requiring pharmacies to demand photo identification when someone picks up such a prescription.

●Requiring pharmacies to check with the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System for signs a patient has been “doctor shopping” or using other means to access opiate painkillers.

●Require all health departments to have the drug naloxone on hand to instantly reverse an opiate overdose.

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.