State and community actions seeding positive change in southern Ohio

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

COLUMBUS — State efforts to halt the spread of prescription painkiller abuse and addiction are having a measurable impact in two of the most hard-hit counties in southern Ohio.

According to data maintained by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy, per capita dosage rates for prescription painkillers are declining in both Scioto and Gallia counties — areas widely considered to be “ground zero” for Ohio’s opiate epidemic.

The findings are key, because substance abuse experts warn there is a direct correlation between doses prescribed and deaths resulting from addiction and overdose.

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“We’re moving in the right direction, but our work is by no means finished,” said State Pharmacy Board Executive Director William T. Winsley, M.S., R.Ph. “We’re encouraged by these findings, though, as they provide evidence that our strategies to address this scourge are working.”

Scioto and Gallia counties had two of the highest per capita dosage rates for prescription painkillers in the state in 2010 at 122.2 and 124.4, respectively.

Only Jackson County (133.3) had a higher rate. So far, partial-year data for 2011 shows projected decreases in the number of doses prescribed of 8 percent in Scioto County and 5 percent in Gallia County.

State leaders attribute the decrease to increased public awareness, tighter prescriber standards and the crackdown on illegal pill mills that have been largely fueling Ohio’s opiate crisis. In May, Gov. John R. Kasich signed House Bill 93, commonly referred to as Ohio’s “pill mill bill” into law.

In addition to improving the state’s ability to monitor and track prescriptions through the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS), the legislation also called for tighter prescriber regulations to prevent “doctor shopping” and other drug-seeking behaviors, and a statewide prescription drug take-back program.

“We need to be clear that our goal isn’t to demonize painkillers, however, these medications have a high potential for dependence and abuse, which can lead to overdose and death,” said ODADAS Director Orman Hall. “These communities, in particular, have done a commendable job of helping to spread the word about the risks associated with the non-medical use of prescription painkillers.”

Hall said next steps include working to expand access to effective treatment, which includes using FDA-approved medications such as Suboxone combined with traditional counseling approaches to help wean individuals off opiates. He noted that ODADAS partnered earlier this year with the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and local officials to help launch the Second Chance Recovery Center in Portsmouth, which provides treatment and job readiness training for individuals with opiate addiction.

Plans are also underway to work with local and county officials to establish a specialized court docket to serve opiate-addicted offenders, open an SOLACE support group based in Portsmouth.

In addition to treatment, Ohio’s comprehensive strategy also includes focusing on prevention education, awareness and enforcement. ODADAS and the Ohio Department of Health have funded a total of 35 new task forces to tackle the prescription drug abuse issue from a community perspective.

Meanwhile, state officials have joined with counterparts from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia to form an Interstate Prescription Drug Alliance focused on sharing best practices and resources for addressing the problem on a regional basis.

“We all have a role to play in promoting safe, healthy communities,” Hall said. “When we reflect on our achievements at the end of this year, our hope is that 2010 will stand out as the high water mark for opiate addiction in Ohio.”