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War against Pills

“If a foreign country were to attack the United States and 72 people each day were killed, we would be at war. But because it’s happening in small communities it isn’t getting the attention that it deserves.”

Those were the words Gov. Ted Strickland used Friday as he announced his intent to create a task force for the purpose of fighting prescription drug abuse in Ohio.

Strickland signed an executive order for the Ohio Prescription Drug Task Force, which will expand the state’s role and establish a more comprehensive approach to fighting prescription drug abuse in the state.

According to 2008 statistics, Southern Ohio has a 62 percent hydrocodone prescription rate and a 34 percent oxycodone prescription rate.

Unintentional drug poisoning is to blame for four deaths in Ohio every day. The national rate of unintentional drug deaths is 72 each day.

Strickland called the death statistics alarming.

The task force will include officials from public safety and public health. It will also include officials from medical and pharmacy backgrounds and from the state and federal government.

The task force will research the problem and report to Strickland anything that can be done immediately to combat the drug abuse problem.

Because the problem is not limited to southern Ohio or to the state, the task force will seek input from local, state and national officials, said Dr. Alvin Jackson, Ohio Director, of Health.

Strickland has also set aside $250,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that local law enforcement agencies can apply for to improve their efforts.

The governor is considering legislation that will require pain clinics to be licensed.

Unethical pain clinics are responsible for many deaths in Ohio, he said.

“We’re talking about a number of deaths that are carried out by pill mills with rogue physicians that are killing our children and we’re going to stop it,” the governor said.

The governor added that there is a distinction between clinics that are ethical and those that are not.

“There are very ethical, very moral physicians doing wonderful work treating patients suffering from pain and there are legitimate doctors doing that,” he said.

But some pain clinics that accept cash only and move from place to place frequently should be prosecuted, he said.

“In my judgment these are accessories to murder, if not murderers themselves,” Strickland said.

Dr. Alvin Jackson, Ohio Director of Health, called attention to the Internet and advertisements that feature prescriptions drugs.

The Internet has made it easier for people to have access to drugs. Drug advertisements are causing more people to think they need the drugs, he said.

Strickland also called on doctors and pharmacists to use the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System before they dispense any sort of opiate. All pharmacists report into the system but only one in five use it when filling prescriptions.

Another part of the solution to prescription drug problems is to educate not only patients but also clinicians and providers, Jackson said.

“We’ve got to focus on education,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is call attention to it.”