Hope emerges for united, bipartisan war on opioids
The roots of the deadly opiate and heroin epidemic run deep and continue to spread wildly out of control throughout our community, our state and our nation.
One of those roots can be traced directly into the offices of doctors and dentists, where many say opiate painkillers have been overprescribed for decades. Once hooked, many users turn to the cheaper but more dangerous alternatives of heroin and fentanyl to get their fix – so much so that today the link between painkillers and heroin abuse has emerged as a consistent thread.
Though it is encouraging that Ohio has seen a decrease in opioid prescriptions in recent years as it has cracked down on illicit “pill mills,” more contraction is sorely needed. In 2016, more than 631 million opiate pills were dispensed across the state, according to the State Board of Pharmacy. That’s enough to equip every man, woman and child in the state with a supply of 55 hits for the year.
That’s why an order from Gov. John Kasich issued Thursday comes none too soon to further slow the spread of opiate overmedication. The governor’s new rules will require physicians to prescribe no more than a seven-day supply instead of the more common 30- to 90-day supply. Officials predict the rule change will result in about 110 million fewer painkillers prescribed annually.
His initiative also provides needed incentives against overprescribing. Medical professionals now will be required to give a specific diagnosis for each prescription and risk losing their medical licenses if they fail to do so.
The presidents of the state medical, pharmacy, dental and nursing boards have all vowed that they would promptly adopt the rules. We strongly recommend that they work aggressively to diligently enforce the new protocols as well.
But even as prescriptions for painkillers have declined 20 percent in Ohio over the past four years, the number of overdose cases and deaths continues to skyrocket. That trend clearly indicates that the source of addictive behaviors can be tracked to other culprits as well.
Among them are drug cartels that have made a fortune smuggling Chinese-made fentanyl and other opioids into the country. Ohio has emerged as a prime base of fentanyl abuse, leading the nation in synthetic opioid deaths, according to a recent report from the Henry Kaiser Foundation.
In that arena, legislation introduced last week in the Ohio Senate by state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, would drastically increase criminal penalties for those dealing in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. It merits speedy approval as another weapon in the state’s widening arsenal to tackle the many-tentacled monster of opiate abuse.
Fortunately, the attack on controlling fentanyl abuse has its fair share of allies in Washington as well. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, recently introduced the INTERDICT Act, which would provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents with high-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S.
For his part, Ohio’s junior U.S. senator, Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, also has shown stalwart leadership toward weakening the opiate scourge throughout his tenure. His recently introduced STOP Act would require shipments of synthetic drugs from foreign countries through the U.S. Postal Service to provide detailed data before being accepted.
Also in Washington last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to create The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. It will focus on gathering input and compiling a report, due in the fall, on the opioid epidemic and potential solutions to it. We hope the commission accepts Sen. Brown’s invitation to visit the epicenter of the epidemic in Ohio to get an accurate gauge on its impact in the heartland of America.
We also hope that the president’s promising words are matched with concrete actions. Although he has talked a mighty talk, his 2018 budget proposal would, among other things, cut $100 million to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s mental health block grants to the states to treat addicts.
Collectively, Gov. Kasich’s prescription initiative, timely and meaty state and federal legislation and the president’s opiate abuse commission hold hope that constructive work can be accomplished without the perilous roadblocks of partisan politics getting in the way. They also hold hope that light may at last appear at the end of the long dark tunnel of opiate abuse that continues to ravage our nation relentlessly.