PDT Staff Writer
An area legislator and medical professional says the area needs to be concerned with something he calls the ‘shadow economy.”
State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), who is also Medical Director for the Scioto County Counseling Center, said there is an economy that is built on and feeds off of the illegal prescription drug problem. Johnson sat down Wednesday with Adams County Sheriff Kim Rogers who showed him documentation about one patient who had seen 73 different doctors.
“There are all kinds of ingenious ways you can get around the system, and the Medicaid fraud is still rampant,” Johnson said. “In fact, if anything, it is worse than it was a year ago when I was looking at House Bill 93.”
House Bill 93, among other things, regulated pain clinics in Ohio, eventually bringing an end to those facilities in Scioto County and other areas of the state.
Johnson said there is a huge problem with people getting drugs and then using those drugs to create an income. Johnson gave an example.
“If you go to your doctor and use your Medicaid card to get a prescription filled - you didn’t pay for the visit - you didn’t pay for the drugs you get from the pharmacy. Let’s say you got a pretty good quantity of Oxycontin. You take that Oxycontin, and you go out on the street and sell it. And then you use that money that you get from it to deal some real drugs,” Johnson said. “That’s happening in Adams County. That’s happening in Scioto County. That’s happening on a large scale basis. But what is fueling that is the shadow economy that we have. The shadow economy — I don’t know how much it’s worth. It’s got to be billions of dollars, if you look at southern Ohio, northern and eastern Kentucky, and western West Virginia. It boggles the mind how much it is. So you have this huge black market that demands and draws people to sell their medications on the black market, and they will.”
Johnson said elder abuse is also part of that market, because elderly people often have their medicines taken by relatives, sometimes their own children, to sell on the black market. And he takes it a step forward.
“I have seen cases where a little old lady, because that stuff (medicine) is so valuable, have sold it to pay the mortgage with it, to supplement their Social Security check with it,” Johnson said. “It’s that shadow economy out there that is drawing all of this in. And you’re seeing Medicaid fraud on a huge scale. People are taking their food stamp card and buying cartons of pop. And then they are taking the cartons of pop and selling it to unscrupulous people that will buy it at 50 cents on the dollar, and then they are using that money they get for it to buy drugs.”
Johnson said many crimes that are reported each day that are dealt with by law enforcement and the legal departments, really have their roots in the shadow economy.
“Right under our nose we’re allowing this huge gushing flow to move out,” Johnson said. “One of the things that I have bumped into when I have talked with physicians about House Bill 93, is that most doc’s that I have talked to are convinced that there are a few rogue docs causing the problems. And certainly pill mills and unscrupulous prescribers can greatly amplify the problem. And that was certainly a problem here. But overall it isn’t just those - because we have shut down our pill mills in Scioto County, and we are still flooded with pills. So what is happening is, this shadow economy is driving people to take their prescriptions and turn them into cash.”
Johnson said though a lot has been done to curb the illegal prescription drug problem there continues to be an economy that can’t be measured, and he said that is something he hopes the coalition of health and law enforcement will be able to tackle.
“We’ve got to do something about cutting out the supply,” Johnson said. “The real problem here is not interdicting it on the roads, which the State Patrol is doing so well. It’s not doing the drug busts on drug dealers on streets and in our towns. The real thing is cutting off the supply where it is just gushing out. It’s gushing out of our Medicaid system.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org