Only Montgomery County, in the Dayton area, has more.
Now comes a report that Scioto County is on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s watch list of the 10 most significant places in the nation for trafficking in illegal prescriptions for painkillers and other narcotics.
The illegal prescription drug trade is killing more Ohioans each year statewide, but the problem is worse in southern Ohio, administration officials said.
Barbara Howard of Portsmouth has experienced the problem in a heartbreaking way. Her daughter, Leslie Cooper, 34, died of an overdose in October.
“She got the prescription at a pain clinic in Wheelersburg. The pharmacists around here would not fill it. A lady who is, I suppose, called a ‘sponsor,’ paid for my daughter’s doctor visit, then took her to Columbus,” Howard said. “She got the prescription filled and gave the woman some of the pills. That was on Oct. 2. On Oct. 3, I got the call that my daughter was dead. She would have been 35 on the 20th of October.”
Another who has seen the problem up close and personal is Scioto County Coroner Dr. Terry Johnson.
“Shortly after I became coroner in 2002, I recognized drug abuse as a horrible problem that was crippling the health of our citizens and the economic prosperity of our communities,” Johnson said. “A large number of people were dying of drug overdose. Through forensic investigation, I determined the cause of death in far too many of our citizens to be drug overdose. Roughly half of the autopsies that I ordered were on deaths that I determined to be directly or indirectly related to drugs.”
Through toxicology studies, he said, he further determined which drugs were involved.
“What I found, typically, was a mix of prescription painkillers and nerve pills. The drugs that are ‘accidentally’ killing the people of Scioto County are those that must be obtained from a licensed provider,” he said.
Howard has no kind words for doctors who sell prescriptions for painkillers.
“The doctors who do this no longer place a value on a human life,” she said. “It’s all about the money. They are money-making racketeers, and until something is done people will continue to die.”
She believes her daughter became addicted to narcotic painkillers early on because of several very painful knee surgeries over the years, the first coming when she was only 5 years old.
“She had gotten off the pills lately and was doing good, going to church, when this woman showed up at church and wound up taking her to Columbus to get the pills,” Howard said.
Johnson has seen first-hand the lengths that addicted people will go through to obtain pain pills and mood-altering drugs.
“It is commonplace for an addicted person to sacrifice his own health and well-being to obtain what he ‘needs.’ It is typical for addicts to turn on spouses, subject their children to mental anguish and physical neglect, and to even steal the last means of support from their elderly parents,” Johnson said. “We shouldn’t be surprised that these addicted people will try to deceive good physicians or that they will flock in droves to physicians who dispense such medications freely.”
Drug Enforcement Administration statistics show deaths related to prescription drugs have soared in Ohio by at least 280 percent in the past decade. There were 524 such deaths reported in 2008, the latest data available.
Nationwide, about 7 million Americans are abusing prescription drugs, an 80 percent increase from 10 years ago.
“If we are to get to the root of this problem, there are some brutal facts that must be brought to light,” Johnson said. “Let’s start with this one: an addicted person does not necessarily see a physician as a healer. First and foremost, an addict sees a physician as a means to an end — as a tool — as a device through which (this) substance can be obtained.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.