COLUMBUS — Vice Chairman of the House Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Study Committee Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) this week joined other members of the study committee at a press conference to discuss the study committee’s recommendations and findings.
The study committee, which was initiated by Speaker of the Ohio House William G. Batchelder (R-Medina) as an effort to address drug abuse and addiction, reached out to Ohioans through a series of regional hearings intended to elicit ideas and feedback from interested parties.
“This epidemic — the enormity of it — can’t be questioned, and because of that, the response has to be equal if not greater,” said Rep. Smith. “We know that there are no silver bullets to solve this problem. This is the first step in a long effort to make a difference, and I commend Speaker Batchelder, chairman of the study committee Robert Sprague, and all the members of the committee for giving this problem the attention it deserves.”
Among the findings of the study committee are recommendations to limit the amount of opioids being prescribed through Ohio’s medical system to slow the rate of new people becoming addicted; to prevent people who are already addicted from diverting more pills from the medical system; to keep people alive even while they are consumed by the misery of their addiction in the hopes that they will eventually get treatment and recover; to integrate addiction treatment that is now practiced in medical silos; and to fund the court system’s specialty dockets that, the committee claims, are “clearly” providing success in getting people off opioids.
The report also outlines potential opportunities for legislation that will incorporate suggestions from the more than 80 witnesses who testified before the committee.
“Drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, ahead of traffic crashes,” said Sprague during the press conference, as he outlined the committee’s findings and recommendations which include the following six-point plan:
1. Adopting more stringent standards for prescribing opioids for pain.
2. Allowing 30-day prescriptions to be allotted in weekly increments to reduce the availability of unused medications.
3. Preventing minors from being prescribed narcotics without their parents’ knowledge.
4. Extending the use of current prescription drug reporting software in Ohio.
5. Requiring a driver’s license or photo ID to pick up narcotics prescriptions from the pharmacy.
6. Engineering integration between treatment options now operated in isolated ‘silos’ including necessary funding.
Smith said he was in line with the need for more integrated services.
“We need to [offer incentives to motivate] providers to do a better job coordinating care across agencies. Too many of them don’t work well together and, therefore, the results aren’t as great,” said Smith in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times-Sentinel. “There are multiple components that need to be combined in order to get the right outcome. Medically assisted treatment without wraparound services has proven to be less than effective.”
Smith said he believes the mental health component of treatment has been underfunded for years and therefore has not been adequately applied to clinical situations as extensively as needed. He said addressing the mental health issue has proven to be critical for recovering addicts.
Smith said this week the expansion of Medicaid was approved through the Ohio Controlling Board.
“If it goes through, it will provide a payer source to more than 1,800 individuals in Gallia County alone that previously did not have any health care options other than the free clinic or the emergency room,” Smith said.
Smith said his visits across Ohio while studying this problem have produced some surprises for the Ohio representative.
“One of the most surprising things would be that we went from Jackson to Toledo to Cleveland to Hardin County, and while all the areas are different in many ways, the problems are very much the same,” said Smith. “The other thing I would say surprised me is this state has a big over-prescribing problem, in my opinion, and it is amazing how quickly someone’s life can change when they develop an addiction to prescription drugs which often leads to using meth or heroin.
When asked about the struggles of patients with legitimate need for prescription narcotics, Smith acknowledged the fine line legislators face when developing solutions to problems as complex as opioid addiction.
“That is the biggest challenge we face — how do we rein in and address the bad actors in the medical community who are clearly over-prescribing without affecting the majority of the physicians who are treating patients in a responsible way? That’s a delicate line that we are trying to walk at this point. Much of that will come back to the Board of Pharmacy and the state medical board enforcing the current laws and promoting the new guidelines recently developed.”