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Group petitions for help fighting drug addiction

SCIOTO COUNTY — With the help of state and federal government, a group of concerned citizens in Scioto County is hoping to fight the drug abuse they see terrorizing their community.

Dubbed the Citizens Against Prescription Abuse, the organization is gathering signatures for a petition to Gov. Ted Strickland for his aid in a battle to control the distribution of prescription drugs in Scioto and surrounding counties.

“It’s sad. It’s frustrating. It’s an uphill battle.” Bob Walton, a Porter Township trustee and community organizer for the group, said. “But it’s a battle we’ve got to fight or we will lose a generation.”

The organization’s petition is seeking more regulation for pain clinics that distribute prescription drugs.

Specifically, the group wants to see Strickland initiate an investigation into the prescription drug abuse epidemic by the state medical and pharmacy boards, the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and to request assistance from President Barack Obama to employ the Drug Enforcement Administration, the IRS and the FBI in the investigation.

They also want to see the governor initiate legislation that would make changes to Ohio law in the formation and operation of pain clinics.

Walton started the petition after seeing problems stemming from several pain clinics opening in the area.

So far the hard copy of the petition has 350 signatures. An online version of the petition has more than 200.

Several other copies are circulating while people continue to gather signatures.

Walton hopes to have 2,000 signatures when the petition is presented to the governor at the end of January.

Though the group is based in Scioto County, he encourages people in Lawrence County to sign the petition too.

“What’s good for Lawrence County is good for Eastern Scioto County and what’s bad probably has the same effects,” Walton said.

Scioto County has nine pain clinics, he said.

“Are we in that much pain?” he said. “No, we are not in that much pain.”

The problem with the clinics, which are legal, he said, is that they distribute dangerous drugs that contribute to addiction and overdose deaths.

Scioto County has the second highest overdose rate from prescription drugs in the state, said Lisa Roberts, an R.N. and injury prevention specialist for the Portsmouth City Health Department.

Additionally, Southern Ohio has four times the prescription drug distribution rate compared to that of Northern Ohio, according to a 2008 distribution study by the pharmacy board.

“We have a very high addiction rates in addition to the death rates,” Roberts said. “A lot of young people are addicted. Our treatment facilities are overwhelmed. The court systems are overwhelmed.”

The clinics often times are owned by felons with prior convictions for drug trafficking, she said.

They take cash only and recruit physicians from other states who have a history of medical licensing issues, she said.

“They can do it all over Ohio, but for some reason they prefer Southern Ohio,” Roberts said. “Probably because they can draw from Kentucky and West Virginia. I think they like to serve the Tri-State area.”

Barbara Howard knows all too well the problems associated with pain clinics. Howard’s daughter, Leslie Cooper, died in October after being taken to one such clinic in Wheelersburg.

When no pharmacy in Wheelersburg would fill the prescription, Cooper was taken to Columbus to a pharmacy that did fill the prescription for Oxycontin and a muscle relaxant.

Howard was told her daughter was taken by a “sponsor,” who paid for her to be taken to the pain clinics in exchange for half of her prescribed pain pills.

Cooper died as result of the toxic effects of the drugs.

The 34-year-old mother had a history of drug addiction since undergoing five knee surgeries since 2000. Howard said in the last year of her life Cooper had tried to make a change in her life. She attended church and was baptized.

Howard wants to see more regulation on pain clinics.

“One thing I think they should be regulated,” Howard said. “I think they should actually be owned by a hospital or a licensed physician. You should have to have medical reasons. My daughter was only 34 years old. I can’t see anything that warranted them to give her the medication, other than she gave them the $200 or $250.”

Many people do not realize how much of a problem the pain clinics are, Howard said.

“I’m just trying to go to these meetings and have my voice put out there that this is a real problem,” she said. “People need to wake up and realize this has got to stop. I don’t know how much more people can take.

“No pain pill on the face of this earth is going to take away the pain I feel for my daughter.”

Dr. Robert Mullins, an emergency room physician, at a local hospital has seen the effects of pain medication addiction as well.

Mullins said his interest in the fight against prescription drug abuse is first as an ordinary citizen and then as a physician.

In the last few years, he has seen first hand the escalation of drug abuse rates.

“This is a problem that, once it’s created, it’s very hard to get out from under,” Mullins said.

Whether or not the petition and the group make a difference, Mullins said he is not the type of person to sit back and let a problem go on without trying to help.

“Maybe it will actually help and maybe it won’t but if we stand by and do nothing, I assure you it will escalate,” he said.

For more information or to sign the petition, visit www.ipetitions.com/petition/stop-prescription-drug-abuse-in-scioto-county/