Last updated: July 24. 2013 1:32PM - 164 Views

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PDT Staff Writer

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), says an Associated Press news report detailing increasing numbers of “prescription tourists” traveling to Georgia—often from Ohio—to obtain prescription painkillers has spurred him to urge the state’s governor, Nathan Deal, to act to crack down on “pill mills” in Georgia.

“If all states do not take tough actions, efforts to crack down on pill mills become like a game of Whac-A-Mole—as soon as one disappears, another one pops up,” Brown said. “Pain clinics closing in Florida have simply been reopening in nearby Georgia, offering ‘prescription tourists’ from Ohio and other states easy access to addictive and often-deadly prescription drugs. In order to stem the flow of prescription drugs from Georgia to Ohio, Governor Deal must act to quickly and aggressively to combat this epidemic.”

“In addition, a Medicaid Lock-In program would help stop Medicaid prescription drug fraud and ensure that Ohio taxpayers are not financing criminal activity or feeding drug addiction. We need to put an end to the doc-shopping and pharmacy-hopping that are fueling this crisis,” Brown said.

In a letter sent to Deal Wednesday, Brown wrote: “Too often, pills that are illegally obtained in Georgia find their way to my home state of Ohio. I urge you to take steps to aggressively monitor prescription oxycodone and opioids in your state in order to combat the national prescription drug abuse epidemic. Failure to act aggressively in Georgia to eradicate pills mills and prevent these abuses will only sustain the drug pipeline that leads to Ohio.”

Last year, Brown urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to reverse course in his efforts to eliminate Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program and help keep the flow of highly-addictive and illegal prescription drugs out of Ohio. At the time, Brown noted the prescription drug pipeline in Florida supplies Ohio and other states with Oxycodone along the I-75 corridor.

Brown is also the author of the Stop Trafficking of Pills Act (STOP Act), which would require national adoption of a Medicaid Lock-In program and directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a similar program in Medicare. Lock-In programs prevent convicted prescription drug abusers and high-risk patients from visiting multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain and fill prescriptions. This enables the close monitoring needed to prevent high-risk patients from personally abusing or selling opioids on the taxpayers’ dime. In May 2011, Brown appeared before a Senate committee to discuss Ohio’s prescription drug epidemic and to call for the implementation of a Federal Medicaid Lock-In program.

Brown said prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Ohio. Ohio is second only to Florida in the number of oxycodone prescriptions filled, and Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisoning increased more than 350 percent from 1999 to 2008. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes and suicide for the first time on record. Prescription pain medications, such as oxycodone, morphine, and methadone, are largely responsible for increasing numbers of overdoses and deaths in Ohio.

Brown said he is working to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and Medicaid fraud in Ohio on all fronts. He cosponsored the Strengthening and Focusing Enforcement to Deter Organized Stealing and Enhance Safety Act (SAFE DOSES Act). The bipartisan bill would prohibit stealing, fraudulently obtaining, or trafficking a medical product, such as prescription drugs; increase penalties for “fences,” when someone knowingly purchases stolen property and later resells it in the legitimate market; enhance civil penalties for profits made off of stolen products; increase criminal penalties when death occurs as a result of a stolen substance; and put pharmaceutical theft under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Correct Organization) law, which has been effective in breaking up organized crime.

Brown’s office convened a first-of-its-kind roundtable in March 2010 that brought together federal officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, state officials from the Attorney General’s office, Department of Health, and Department of Jobs and Family Services, and community leaders to discuss the issue of drug abuse in southern Ohio.

Scioto County went from being the location of 10 pain clinics, to no pain clinics in 2011.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at flewis@heartlandpublications.com.

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