Richland County Commissioners learn more about area’s opiate problem

CLEAR FORK VALLEY — Working through an obvious problem — the availability and threat of opiates — wasn’t easy for a group of people gathered in Bellville Thursday night.

Richland County commissioners met with members of the Ohio Pharmacists Association (OPA).

Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John said the number of deaths from use of opiates went from nine in 2012 to 63 in 2016 in Richland County.

She said five young ladies were allowed to obtain opiates while in the Richland County Jail. One, 19, overdosed. She had never used drugs.

The county has had to shop around for places where autopsies can be done because centers that do that work have been “overloaded,” according to John.

Richland County has shopped for help from autopsy centers in Summit, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties, she said.

Recently, at the Diamond Street intersection outside Richland County offices, people saw a couple in a car. He had overdosed and she was high. Their car hit another in the crosswalk, John said.

The Thursday meeting, at St. Paul Church community room, was billed as a chance for OPA president Ernest Boyd to talk about problems with pharmacies. Talk quickly turned to the role pharmacists should have in figuring out how to alleviate the opioid problem.

Ohio has the highest opiate death rate in the country, according to Boyd.

Pharmacists in the group had varying opinions on the matter.

One gentleman who asked not to be identified said he believes too much money can sometimes be thrown at a problem. This was after John told how the difficulty she mentioned, at the Richland County Jail, could be helped by getting a body scanner. This would alleviate the problem of people smuggling drugs into that building.

In talking about the access to autopsies, she said they cost $1,235 three years ago. She said that cost has gone up by 50 per cent.

Commissioner Tony Vero said first time drug offenders rarely end up in prison. It costs $72 a day to care for someone put in jail. He said there are stand alone facilities that can get addicts off the streets.

The gentleman who had spoken before said “you can throw money at a problem.” But the truth is “people can buy drugs in a parking lot.”

He told about how EMTs he’s worked with say it is common for someone to go to a bathroom to “shoot up.” They do that because they know they will be found.

“What’s the consequence” if you’re “not gonna die?” he said.

Commissioner John said it is a “tough call to make” in deciding what to do but she thinks about the “families out there.”

Other pharmacist members shared their opinions.

One man said “not all guys get addicted by just putting a needle in their arm.”

State representative Mark Romanchuk said 70 to 80 per cent of people who get addicted do it because they have first been prescribed a pain killer, because of an accident or surgery.

They are “not people who run on the streets,” he said.

He said there is “over prescribing” and that is not the fault of pharmacists.

He said 840 million pills had been prescribed in the past to an Ohio population of 11.5 million. That number is down to 600 million, but that is “still too high.”

Boyd said people need to “re-educate physicians” on pharmacology.

Pharmacists are the “most available health professionals,” he said.

Boyd said “knuckleheads at the FDA” (Food and Drug Administration) have “screwed the public” by the way they have suggested that over the counter pain killers can’t adequately protect people.

Certain pain killers can now be obtained only by prescription, and these are usually the more powerful, over-prescribed medications, he said.

People should be able to say they don’t need 30 prescription pills when fewer could do the job, he said. He said if he obtains too many pills, he will “flush it down.”

He said he been criticized for making that statement. But there is no difference between flushing unused medications down the toilet and eliminating them through normal bodily functions.

“If you take a narcotic, where does it go?” he said.

Boyd said pharmacists could volunteer to be on an opiate task force the OPA is forming. Also, people could go to schools and try to educate students.

Many young people get started by “getting drugs out of the medicine cabinets,” he said.

Bellville Mayor Teri Brenkus asked about “take back” operations that have been used to gather unused drugs. She asked if that could be put in place in pharmacies.

Boyd said pharmacies would have to first apply to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It would cost $8,000 for an approved container, and most pharmacies have said no, said Boyd.

Mention was made by one audience member that Wayne County has a “take back” operation. They are available in several other areas.

Ernest Boyd, president of the Ohio Pharmacists Asociation, speaking at a recent gathering of pharmacists and local officials in Bellville. Louise Swartzwalder | Bellville Star Boyd, president of the Ohio Pharmacists Asociation, speaking at a recent gathering of pharmacists and local officials in Bellville. Louise Swartzwalder | Bellville Star