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Curbing Abuse Of Painkillers

August 28, 2013
By THE INTELLIGENCER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Misuse of legal drugs has become a leading cause of death in Ohio, surpassing the toll taken by vehicle crashes.

Steps are being taken through a state law enacted in 2011 to curb what has become an epidemic. Prescription drug abuse shows no signs of decreasing, however.

A special committee formed by the state House of Representatives is holding hearings on the issue throughout the state. But much of what the House Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Committee is hearing is horror stories from abusers and their families.

Surely we already know enough about that. Abuse of prescription drugs has much in common with addiction to illegal substances such as cocaine and heroin. It can devastate families, ruin lives - and take them.

No one can pin the death toll down with certainty. But the Ohio State Medical Association found that from 2006 to 2008, drug overdoses claimed an average of about four lives a day in the Buckeye State.

It is not a crisis confined to large cities. From 2007 to 2011, Jefferson County had the third worst rate of drug overdose deaths in the state. Eighty-four fatalities were reported, according to the state Department of Health. Belmont County reported 29 overdose deaths during that period, with Harrison experiencing seven fatalities and two in Monroe.

Opioid painkillers including oxycodone and hydrocodone are the chief culprits in the epidemic. Such drugs are important in treating patients who experience severe and/or chronic pain. Abused, however, they are addictive and can be deadly.

Measures in the 2011 law include licensing of pain management clinics and limits on the amounts of drugs they can dispense. While they may curb abuses by legitimate businesses, it does nothing to crack down on illegal "pill mills," which often buy drugs in quantity outside the state, then sell them to Ohio addicts at huge profits.

Members of the House committee should be investigating how well the new law has worked. Then, in consultation with health care professionals such as the Medical Association, they should discuss what additional action can be taken.

More needs to be done to squeeze the drug pipelines feeding Ohioans' additions. If new, effective tactics are not devised, the death toll from prescription drug abuse will continue to rise.

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