Combatting The Opioid Epidemic In Ohio
A Guest Column by State Senator Scott Oelslager
February 12, 2016
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Opioids are the driving factor of unintentional drug overdoses within Ohio. The extensive abuse of opioids has led to a statewide public health crisis. In 2014, 80.1 percent of drug overdoses throughout the state involved opioids. The Ohio General Assembly, along with Governor Kasich, has made substantial progress in the effort to curb the abuse of opioids by passing legislation and managing prescription drug use.  

Ohio ranked second across the nation, only behind California, in the number of drug overdose deaths in 2014. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 2,744 Ohioans died as a result of a drug overdose, an 18.3 percent increase from 2013. The issue has reached epidemic proportions and while at times there may be a sense of hopelessness, the state is working to reach out and collaborate to bring hope back to families and communities that have been devastated by the abuse of opioids.

Drug abuse can have long-lasting and damaging effects on the families and communities of opioid users. Opioids—such as prescription pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl—can be highly addictive and therefore can have a lasting negative impact on the user. There is a direct correlation between drug abuse and criminal activity in the community. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, approximately 80 percent of Ohio’s current prison inmates have a history of drug and alcohol addiction.

One step of action taken by the General Assembly was House Bill 4, as a response to the growing number of opioid-related deaths in Ohio. House Bill 4, sponsored by Representatives Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) and Jeffery Rezabek (R-Clayton), allows a physician to authorize an individual to personally administer Naloxone—a drug that can counter the effects of an opioid overdose—to another individual at risk of an opioid-related overdose.

Second, legislation strengthening the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS) addresses the misuse of prescription drugs such as opioid pain relievers. The goal is to reduce “doctor shopping” and the number of patients with multiple opioid prescriptions.  According to the CDC, over 259 million prescriptions were written for opioid pain relievers in 2012 – enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. In 2015, every prescriber was required to request a patient’s history from OARRS before prescribing opioids to the patient, increasing the use of OARRS by prescribers and pharmacists. Since the OARRS requirement was implemented last year, the State Board of Pharmacy has reported a 1.4 million decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions provided to Ohio patients.

Third, in January the CDC released draft guidelines for physicians on prescribing opioids, directed towards reducing the number of people who misuse, abuse, or overdose on opioids. In Ohio the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team (GCOAT) followed the CDC’s example and published new opioid prescribing guidelines for patients experiencing acute pain. The GCOAT guidelines suggest prescribing non-opioid alternatives and limiting the number of pills per prescription.

Fourth, Governor Kasich and First Lady Karen Kasich have launched the Start Talking! initiative aimed at preventing drug abuse among Ohio’s children. A discussion on the dangers of opioids is crucial since children are particularly vulnerable to feel pressure from their friends and peers to experiment with drugs. Start Talking! offers parents and teachers the resources necessary to start a conversation with Ohio’s youth on drug use.

Fifth, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine has been collaborating with law enforcement and community leaders in an attempt to train and recognize problems in youth before they get worse. The events hosted by Attorney General Dewine cover topics such as administering Naloxone, treating drug overdoses at crime scenes, finding drug dealers through OARRS, and implementing community driven initiatives. The state cannot act alone. We have to attack this issue from all angles. We need to work with our local shelters, churches, synagogues, schools and communities to combat the epidemic.

If you know a friend or family member who may be addicted to opioids or other substances you can visit the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services website for treatment resources and addiction service providers. You can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357), SAMHSA’s national helpline for mental health and substance abuse issues. You can also visit Start Talking! to learn more about how to discuss the dangers of drugs with your children.

The opioid epidemic is an issue of great importance to the Ohio legislature. While improvements have been made in the fight against opioid abuse, more work can still be done. This crisis reaches suburbs, cities, rural areas, wealthy children, poor adults – it is an issue that needs to be addressed and targeted in a holistic approach. Drug addiction reaches all corners of society and if it touches even one individual in our community it impacts all of us.

I will continue to work with the General Assembly to combat the abuse of opioids throughout the state of Ohio.  I welcome your input and your help.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office about this matter or any other matter we are discussing at the Statehouse. I can be reached by phone at (614) 466-0626, by e-mail at or by writing State Senator Scott Oelslager, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215.

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