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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Illegal trade in prescriptions exacts rising toll in Ohio

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - An illegal prescription-drug trade is killing more Ohioans every year, and frustrated authorities say they don't have enough resources to stop it, a newspaper reported yesterday.

The problem is statewide but particularly bad in southern Ohio, where high poverty makes the drug trade look lucrative.

As many as eight "pill mills" operate in Scioto County, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch.

Scioto County is on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's watch list of the 10 most-significant places in the country for trafficking in illegal prescriptions for painkillers and other narcotics, according to the report.

Deaths related to overdoses of prescription drugs have soared in Ohio by at least 280 percent in the past decade, up to 524 in 2008, the latest data available.

Nationwide, about 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs, an 80 percent increase from 10 years ago.

"This is crazy and it has to be stopped," said Barbara Howard, a Portsmouth resident and member of a local drug task force.

Ms. Howard's daughter, Leslie Cooper, died from an overdose in 2009.

"Someone needs to regulate these pain clinics and stop doctors from handing out drugs to people who don't need them," Howard said.

Law enforcers across the state say they don't have enough money or legal authority to get at the root of the problem - rogue doctors who write the prescriptions and shady pharmacists who fill them.

The Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, a lobbying group, also says not enough doctors and dentists check a prescription drug database before prescribing painkillers.

Ohio's statewide database was created in 2006 to allow physicians to check the prescription histories of patients and to discourage addicts from "doctor shopping" to get drugs.

But only about 5,500 of Ohio's 42,000 licensed doctors and dentists are registered to use the voluntary online database, The Dispatch said.

The sheriff's group is calling for a state law that would require doctors and dentists to check the database, giving authorities more power to go after medical professionals who abuse the system.

Jeff Smith, director of government relations for the Ohio State Medical Association, said the group supports efforts to take down bad doctors running pill mills.

But the group doesn't want new laws that would overburden everyone else.

Stricter rules potentially could harm patients and stop doctors from treating patients with real chronic-pain issues, Mr. Smith said.

Adams County Sheriff Kimmy Rogers said he is disheartened at the extent of the prescription-drug problem in his county, where about a quarter of the 28,000 residents live below federal poverty guidelines.

He often carries a folder that contains photos of the 19 people in his county who died last year of accidental prescription-drug overdoses.

Sheriff Rogers said the problem affects everyone, not just those with drug addictions.

"Because most of these people paying $80 on the street for one pill don't have a job to support that habit," he said.

"They're breaking into your houses and stealing your stuff and writing bad checks to your business."



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