“It cuts across all economic bounds,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday after a tour of the maternity ward at SOMC. “It is not a middle-class problem. It cuts all over the place geographically. The numbers I find to be quite staggering at this facility ... but this facility is doing an absolute bang-up job. They are dealing with a problem in society that is not of their making.”
Flanked by Ohio State Rep. Dr. Terry Johnson (R-89); Aaron Haslam, co-unit coordinator of the Special Prosecutions Unit; Randy Arnett, president and CEO of SOMC; Dr. Aaron Adams, Scioto County health commissioner; Scioto County Coroner Dr. Darren Adams; Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini; and Portsmouth Police Chief Charles Horner, DeWine spoke to the media about what he has been witnessing across southern Ohio.
“It is a plague on our society,” DeWine said. “The answer to this problem is not going to just come from the attorney general. It’s not going to come from just the governor. It’s not going to come from just the state rep. This is a community effort. It involves treatment, rehabilitation, it involves law enforcement. It involves regulatory agencies doing their jobs. It’s going to take a holistic approach.”
DeWine said he was not aware of the problem of prescription drug abuse until his wife told him about it.
“We have finally woke up in Ohio,” DeWine said. “Frankly it took us a while. I was not aware of the gravity of this problem, and I am an old prosecuting attorney. I have dealt with drug problems. But it was about two years ago when I was campaigning around the state. It was my wife, Fran, who first came back from Scioto County, came back from Adams County, came back from Lawrence County, where she was campaigning, she would tell me every night, “when you’re attorney general you have to do something about this problem.”
DeWine said when he was a county prosecutor, 75 to 80 percent of who he saw come through the court system were either addicted to drugs or were in court because of someone else’s drug problem. Now he says that number is higher.
DeWine praised Johnson’s efforts in getting House Bill 93 passed, which deals with the prescription drug problem.
“He brings an expertise to this that frankly was missing in the public debate,” DeWine said.
He also talked about hiring Haslam, an Adams County prosecutor to prosecute the cases for the state.
“He dealt with this problem as a prosecutor in Adams County,” DeWine said. “I appointed him to head our anti-prescription drug abuse problem in the Attorney General’s office. Everytime he wakes up in the morning and every night when he goes to bed he is supposed to be thinking about this problem.”
DeWine did not speak in glowing terms about the past performance of the Ohio State Medical Board.
“What we have seen in the last few days is very positive. I want to commend them for that,” DeWine said. “What we have seen in the past is not very positive. I have been very blunt with them, the State Medical Board has not moved fast enough in the past. The State Pharmacy Board has. The State Pharmacy Board, by and large, has done a good job. The State Medical Board has sat back and let this problem percolate and get worse and worse and worse.”
He said over the last several years, when the medical board pulled doctors’ licenses because of illegal prescription drug activity, it has been mainly after somebody else did something.
“We have challenged them to be more proactive,” DeWine said. “They are an administrative agency. They do not have to wait for the conviction. They can do it quicker than that. I believe, and now am convinced, they have seen the light. And we look forward to working with them.”
The medical board suspended the license Thursday of Wheelersburg pain clinic physician Dr. Douglas Karel.
DeWine said he was not at liberty to talk about the details, but said that through coordination between agencies, his department is setting in motion some things through the Organized Crime Commission that will make a significant difference for law enforcement.
DeWine said the state has committed about $2.5 million for the problem.
“That $2.5 million is the beginning. And there may be more,” DeWine said. “This is our priority number one.”