Posted: 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, June 24, 2014


9 bills in works to attack opiate addiction


9 bills in works to attack opiate addiction photo
Al Behrman
Judge Robert Peeler tries a case in April involving heroin abuse in Warren County Common Pleas Court in Lebanon. Peeler is among a growing number of judges and corrections officials across the country trying to combat the fast-growing national heroin problem by fighting heroin needles with treatment needles.
9 bills in works to attack opiate addiction photo
Al Behrman
Nine pieces of legislation were introduced in the General Assembly to attack the opiate-addiction epidemic that Ohio faces. Pictured is twice-arrested heroin user Cynthia Fugate, center, as she is led in April from Warren County Common Pleas Court in Lebanon. Fugate was given the option by Judge Robert Peeler of taking monthly injections of the opiate-blocking drug Vivitrol. Fugate declined the option.

By Michael D. Pitman

Staff Writer

When the state legislature resumes session this fall, lawmakers will consider nine bills aimed at curbing the epidemic of heroin and opiate addiction in Ohio.

And while nine pieces of legislation introduced at one time on a single topic may seem like a lot, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones says action is needed “because we’re losing the battle” against illegal drugs.

“They are trying to throw all the darts they can to stop it,” Jones said of the legislation. “Will it stop it? Some of it will; but it won’t stop until you stop people from buying illegal drugs.”

Opiate addiction doesn’t affect one type of person, officials say, and the biggest opiate-based drug, heroin, has affected both genders in every racial and socioeconomic demographic. According to the latest Ohio Department of Health data, heroin overdose deaths were up by 60 percent in 2012 over 2011, and heroin drove the overall number of fatal unintentional drug overdose deaths — 1,914 — in 2012.

Nine bills were introduced in December by members of the 130th General Assembly addressing different aspects of opiate addiction.

“This epidemic is growing under the current structure of our medical system and addiction treatment system,” said Rep. Robert Sprague, chairman of the House Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Study Committee, when he announced the introduction of the bills. “These bipartisan bills represent transformational change in both systems. I believe that with the help of the medical community, the treatment community, and the criminal justice system, we can break the back of this epidemic together.”

Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Hanover Twp., talked about the bills at a Butler County Opiate Abuse Task Force meeting last week.

“We recognize that opiate addiction is a serious problem throughout the state,” Derickson told the Journal-News Monday. “It’s in every corner of the state, every municipality, every township … It’s a problem.”

The package of nine bills came from a series of hearings and meetings in 2013 to learn more about the opiate epidemic, which, according to Sprague’s office, “was the driving force behind the pieces of legislation included in the package.”

“Drug overdose has now surpassed traffic accidents to become the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, and prescription opioids account for more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined,” Sprague said.

Derickson said the nine bills introduced at one time on one topic is a lot. And while it’s “very disappointing and depressing,” it is a problem and “we ought to be encouraged that we are talking about them.”

“These bills really came from the community and community meetings. People spoke out and said this is a problem we’re dealing with,” he said of the timing of the bills’ introduction. “We’ve never had a committee to address drug addiction. You might say it’s long overdue, and I’d agree with you.”

And while today the drug of choice is heroin, Derickson said if something isn’t done to address this problem, “tomorrow it’s going to be something else.”

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said the timing of the bills is “because we’re losing the battle” and are legislators “trying to throw all the darts they can to stop it.”

“Will it stop it? Some of it will,” Jones said of the legislation. But it won’t stop until you stop people from buying illegal drugs.

“The only cure is to never do drugs,” he said. “Once you do this stuff, getting off this stuff is very, very slim.”

Jones said his jail and state prisons are full of drug addicts because they commit crimes trying to fuel their habit.

“We’re in a society that if it feels good, do it,” he said. “We’ve got an addicted country.”

The General Assembly’s concern about the problem is why these bills have been introduced, said John Bohley, executive director of the Butler County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.

“I think everybody is becoming aware and how the problem has gotten so much worse over the last couple of years,” he said.

A special insert in Sunday’s Journal-News — a partnership between the Butler County ADAS Board and the Butler County Opiate Abuse Task Force — outlined the heroin epidemic in the county. Overdoses and other problems, like the spread of infectious diseases, are also on the rise, Bohley said.

“We’ve seen the growth in the use of heroin because it’s readily available and it’s relatively inexpensive,” he said.

While there hasn’t been a decline in the addiction of opiates, Bohley said, “Hopefully we have reached a peak, but we’re only able to tell that in retrospect.”

Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, and Rep. Margy Conditt, R- Liberty Twp., jointly sponsored a bill to allow law enforcement to charge anyone who supplies, furnishes or administers a controlled substance to a pregnant woman to be additionally charged with corrupting another with drugs. They both see the package of bills announced by Sprague in December as an effort to try and do something.

“It’s easier to take small bites at the apple, and they are all part of a concerted effort to address this opiate addiction,” said Conditt. “We are losing lots and lots of people due to drug overdoses. It’s just a deadly addiction.”

Retherford said the legislature’s multipronged approach “can definitely take a big chunk out of the problem.”

“There’s just not one solution for the problem,” he said. “We’re always taking ideas and we’re always listening to people who have ideas on ways to fight this.”


House Bill 314: Prevents opioids from being prescribed to minors without their parents’ consent; signed by Gov. Kasich on June 16, also part of House Bill 485 that passed the House

House Bill 332: Creates higher standards of care requirements for physicians treating chronic, non-cancer pain; pending in the House Health & Aging Committee

House Bill 341: Requires all prescribers to check the OARRS system before giving a prescription for an opioid; signed by Gov. Kasich on June 16, also part of House Bill 485 that passed the House

House Bill 359: Requires a consumer fact sheet to be given to patients receiving an opioid prescription; pending in the House Health & Aging Committee

House Bill 363: Creates a 911 Good Samaritan law that exempts someone from prosecution for minor possession if they attempt to save the life of someone who is overdosing; the bill has had three hearings in the House Judiciary Committee

House Bill 366: Requires hospice organizations to appoint one person to keep track of medications used, do pill counts, lock up unused medications and dispose of medication after it is no longer needed; signed by Gov. Kasich on June 17, also part of House Bill 485 that passed the House

House Bill 367: Requires prescription pill addiction and the linkage to heroin be taught as part of the health class curriculum in our schools; passed the House on March 12, assigned to the Senate Education Committee

House Bill 369: Requires each county to have the full spectrum of integrated opioid addiction recovery treatment and recovery housing. It also requires insurance and Medicaid to pay for opioid recovery treatment, and provides funding for specialty drug courts; part of House Bill 483 and signed by Gov. Kasich on June 16

House Bill 378: Requires drug recovery treatment to accompany prescriptions for medication assisted treatment drugs; pending in the House Health & Aging Committee

Source: Ohio General Assembly

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