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Record Number Of Ohioans Died Of Drug Overdoses Last Year

Ohio Public Radio

The state says a record 4,050 people died of drug overdoses last year, driven in large part by the emergence of stronger drugs like fentanyl. On average, 11 Ohioans are dying each day from overdoses. Overdose deaths rose 33 percent over 2015. The Ohio Department 0f Health says heroin-related deaths are leveling off, and deaths from prescription painkillers fell for the fifth straight year. The prescribing of painkillers also is falling.  Governor John Kasich is rolling out more ways to crack down on painkiller prescriptions. But critics believe there's a resource not being utilized in the opioid fight. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Doctors can no longer prescribe powerful painkillers for longer than seven days for adults and five days for kids.


Governor John Kasich urges for doctors to realize the part they can play in reducing opioid addiction in Ohio.


Kasich: “Everybody needs to understand that when you’re dispensing this stuff in some respects it’s like walking around with a loaded gun. You have a responsibility to do this the right way.”


But Kasich acknowledges that fighting this epidemic goes beyond prescription guidelines and includes law enforcement cutting off the supply chain and increased prevention efforts.


The Ohio Department of Health says there were 4,050 overdose deaths in Ohio last year, nearly 3,500 were opioid related.


Deaths caused by prescribed painkillers are declining, but the number of people dying of illicit drugs is on the rise. And more than half of all drug overdose deaths, 58 percent, involved the highly-potent fentanyl. Kasich notes that drug can be a hundred times stronger than heroin.


Kasich: “So for those people who are out there who thinks it’s safe to go meet somebody out on the corner and score a little something, you’re playing with your life.”


The new prescription regulations were rolled out with a lot of muscle from the medical field. People representing doctors, nurses and pharmacy groups were all in support of the rules. And if they don’t follow them?


Kasich: “I don’t care who you are. You violate these guidelines and the medical board will come after you and you will be disciplined and you will perhaps lose your license.”


But critics are firing back at the way Kasich is handling the epidemic. That includes Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko of the Cleveland area.


Yuko: “We’re not giving the right answers at the right time to the right people. And to take one aspect of it and say ok we’re going to limit the amount of prescription drugs you can have, I don’t believe that’s the right answer.”


Yuko says cutting off prescription drugs will only lead people to illegal drugs.


Yuko: “This might be a good solution if it worked as designed but when it doesn’t work as designed and you force a person to go to the streets looking for those drugs, then we might be asking for more problems than what this bargains for.”


He adds that there’s a major aspect that Kasich isn’t addressing: treatment.


The Senate Democratic Caucus proposed a plan a few months ago that asked Kasich to pump more money into treatment centers and groups fighting addiction on the local level by taking $200 million out of the Rainy Day Fund, that’s 10% of the reserve.


Yuko also took issue with Kasich saying there’s good news out of Ohio with the drop in prescription drug overdose deaths.


Yuko: “Does it really matter if those people that got cut off of prescription drugs went to find illegal drugs and they ultimately passed away? The answer is no. There’s no winning situation here, until we stop this.”


Kasich has countered in the past that the state’s best resource for treatment is the money received through Medicaid expansion – which he’s advocated for nationwide.


He’s been working with Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on a plan that would overhaul the federal health care law – but it would not address Medicaid expansion. He plans to release the details of that proposal soon.

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