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Overprescribing in Ohio: What is being done to stop the opioid epidemic?

Ohio’s epidemic of lethal drug overdoses is still ongoing. The toll has been truly terrible – and has been building for years.

After all, it was way back in 2007 that unintentional drug poisoning first moved ahead of car crashes as the most common cause of death due to injury in Ohio. Most of these poisoning deaths involve prescription drug overdoses.

What are the state and the medical profession doing to respond? In this post, we will address that question.

Scope of the crisis

Public health officials have been concerned about overdoses involving prescription drugs for many years. From 2000 to 2012, the number of deaths by unintentional overdose nearly quadrupled. It went from 411 in 2000 to 1.914 in 2012.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has been trying to respond. For example, ODH has been coordinating a multi-agency task force called the Prescription Drug Abuse Action Group.

Along with the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team (GCOAT), ODH has also worked to develop prescribing guidelines for opioid (narcotic) medications, which doctors often prescribe as painkillers.

These medications can be highly addictive. They also can lead to the use of heroin, another highly addictive and potentially lethal drug. People often turn to heroin if prescription drugs aren’t available or are too costly.

The opioid epidemic is a national problem, of course. According to federal data, about two million people abused or were addicted to opiod-based prescription meds in 2014. But Ohio’s epidemic has been particularly bad.

Public and private efforts

Last month, in his State of the State speech, Governor John Kasich summarized some of latest efforts to address the opiod problem at the state level.

The possibilities include:

  • Limiting the length of prescriptions for opioid pain medications
  • Requiring the registration of pharmacy technicians
  • Making Naloxone – a drug that can be effective in reversing a potentially lethal overdose – more widely available

The Ohio State Medical Association backs the proposals, as does the Ohio Pharmacists Association. There is no sweepingly new legislation being planned, however, and no new money for drug treatment efforts.

Meanwhile, the private sector remains active in seeking to keep efforts to address the opioid epidemic on the front burner. A good example of this is Tyler’s Light.

Tyler’s Light is a foundation formed by the parents of a young man who died of a narcotic painkiller overdose after suffering an injury playing football for the University of Akron. Last weekend, hundreds of people participated in the annual Tyler’s Light 5k, aimed to promoting education and awareness of the opioid painkiller problem.

Holding medical professionals accountable

Turning the tide against the opioid epidemic is a huge challenge. It involves detailed policies and affects the entire society.

But the issue of overprescribing opiods is also simple. Doctors need to stop relying on highly addictive medications to treat chronic pain. Instead, opiods should be resved for acute pain.

IIndeed, doctors need to exercise good diagnostic juggment in general, not merely fall back on prescribing particular pills as a quick fiix.

The law has long recognized that medical professionals can be held accountable for malpractice, including prescription errors. That reality hasn’t changed, even as the standards of care for narcotic painkillers continue to evolve.