DeWine: Drug manufacturers should pay for 12 point opioid soluti - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

DeWine: Drug manufacturers should pay for 12 point opioid solutions plan

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Ohio's top dog in law enforcement is once again looking for new ways to battle the deadly opioid epidemic, at the expense of the companies who created the addictive painkillers in the first place. 

In an early morning conference Monday morning, Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine unveiled a series of new initiatives that his office is hoping to introduce in order to help combat this crisis.

In May, DeWine sued the five largest manufacturers of prescription opioids for their alleged roles in misleading doctors about how addictive prescription opioids are. The lawsuit seeks remedies from the manufacturers to help remediate the damage caused by the proliferation of opioids in Ohio. 

Now the Attorney General says he's hoping to drive those same drug companies to the bargaining table and speed up the process. DeWine acknowledged that lawsuits are lengthy, particularly when they involve as much investigation and discovery as in a case like this.

DeWine says he's hoping that the companies will recognize their part in the epidemic and come forward with discussions about how they can help, and possible settlements for the lawsuits. 

"Look they made this problem, the drug companies created this problem. What these drug companies have done is killing Ohioans every single day. Right now as we speak there is undoubtedly someone who is dying or just died. We have to have a sense of urgency about this. We have to have a sense that this is a crisis in the state of Ohio. And we have to target the people who created it. These drug companies did it. They knew what they were doing," said DeWine. "And what is the most infuriating part of this is that they have done precious little to do anything to help. Do you see these drug companies out working on people, trying to help people who need treatment? Do you see them coming forward with a huge education program that they can help teach the people in Ohio, helps kids from becoming addicted in the future? No. They're not doing any of it. I'm gonna make them do it!" 

According to DeWine, an estimated 14 Ohioans die every day from overdoses. 

"Opiate pills were bad enough. Heroin was bad enough. But when you get into Fentanyl, where we are now, and anything else that some evil chemist can come up with, and they will come up with new things, and we see this fentanyl being mixed into other products, it's very possible that the death rate will dramatically go up."

Half of all children in Ohio's foster care system are in care due to one or both parents being addicted to drugs. In Mahoning County, the Children Services Board says they've seen an increase of at least 30 percent in children who are taken from homes because of addicted parents. 

DeWine said he's looking to make sure the drug manufacturers are held responsible, and that if the companies are willing to come forward with serious settlement offers and collaborative techniques he would consider them. 

The Attorney General said that the cost of battling the epidemic is into the billions of dollars, and said he adamantly believes that the money should not come from the taxpayers, but rather from the companies who helped to create the crisis. 

"The more we take this blanket and uncover this mess, the worse the mess looks," said DeWine. "And as we uncover not just the mess that's been created, but as we uncover what the drug companies knew and when they knew it and what they did, the more you know the worse it is for these drug companies."

During his statements, DeWine laid out a 12 point blueprint for programs that he would like to see done with the money to help combat the epidemic. 

Among DeWine's list of potential solutions, DeWine said the first step would be to pass legislation giving the Governor the ability to declare a public health emergency statewide or in specific areas, which would allow for the distribution of money and other resources to local entities that are facing unexpected emergency conditions like overdose spikes. 

DeWine also said that the legislation could create an accelerated process for state licenses or approvals in critical professions such as the medical or social work fields as well as expedited licensing reciprocity with other states.  

The need for addiction treatment providers and specialty feeds was one that reappeared throughout DeWine's list of possible steps to solve the crisis. 

The Attorney General said that Ohio is currently facing a shortage of critical specialists who are specifically trained to deal with addiction. One of his ideal solutions would create a program to incentivize students in Ohio to study for, and train to become addiction specialists, treatment providers, social workers, and other similar career specialists. 

Under the program, DeWine says student loans could be forgiven for students who study in Ohio universities and stay in Ohio to work in the addiction field. 

On a similar note, DeWine discussed the importance of expanding addiction treatment services. 

In the state of Ohio, there are currently restrictive legislative rules that prohibit treatment facilities that accept Medicaid funding from providing more than 16 "beds" for treatment. The so-called "16-bed rule" limits the amount of space that Medicaid funded treatment providers can offer in order to combat addiction. 

According to DeWine, a new study by the Ohio State University says that the state only has treatment capacity for 20-40 percent of those in Ohio who are currently struggling with opioid addiction.

"The problem is even worse in poor and rural communities," said DeWine. 

DeWine's plan looks to double the substance abuse treatment capacity in the state. He specified that Ohio needs a plan to develop, incentivize, or repurpose treatment options. 

The Attorney General mentioned two possibilities for how to achieve that: by utilizing Ohio's hospitals and helping local Mental Health and Recovery Boards. 

DeWine said that he has been traveling the state and has noticed that in Ohio's hundreds of hospitals, there is space to expand treatment centers. But the 16-bed rule and current Medicaid funding formulas limit how much they are able to contribute. 

In addition, DeWine said lawmakers could drive funding to the county-run Mental Health and Recovery Boards, which he said are vastly underfunded, through block grants. The Attorney General made the argument that the local boards could then use the funding to expand treatment options in communities where it is needed most. 

Under the umbrella of law enforcement, DeWine's plan calls for new technology and improvements to data systems used by police departments in the Buckeye State. 

One particular point of the plan calls for an extensive law enforcement data infrastructure that allows real-time, statewide data sharing and brings state-of-the-art data analytics and crime prediction to every Ohio law enforcement agency.

According to DeWine, under current data techniques, only information on actual arrests is shared from department to department and centralized. 

The new infrastructure could allow the nearly 1,000 police departments, sheriff's offices, and law enforcement agencies in Ohio to share information on details like the names of everyone in a car when the driver is arrested for drug trafficking, the number of times law enforcement officers have been called to a given location (such as a suspected drug house), or a list of known associates of someone arrested for a crime. 

DeWine argued that centralizing data can allow a department to have better access to crime prediction and analytics that can help catch criminals faster. 

"We will continue our great system in Ohio, but frankly, to go against the drug cartels, who are highly organized, highly efficient, who run a horrible, horrible business. To go against them we need better data, better data to share with law enforcement agencies across the state of Ohio," said DeWine. 

And in the effort to combat the cartels, DeWine mentioned the need to expand drug task forces that are working. 

Providing more funding and more manpower to task forces models that are proven to work well, according to DeWine, disrupt the flow of money and drugs from Mexican drug cartels. 

Th AG's organized crime commission has already partnered with state, federal, and local officials to create the Bulk Cash Drug Smuggling Task Forces. DeWine said these task forces target the behaviors of Mexican cartels that smuggle drugs into Ohio, and smuggling money and guns from Ohio back into Mexico. 

DeWine said these specific task forces are able to work more quickly than other task forces or local law enforcement agencies because they are able to share data analytics. 

He argued, "We need more of these.' 

In addition, DeWine also hopes to create at least 60 more specialized drug courts across the state. Counties across the state, like Mahoning and Trumbull, have begun using specialized drug courts, which provided heightened intensity probation programs and treatment options in lieu of standard criminal sentencing. 

DeWine said he has seen first hand how drug court programs can help but said that there are more than 20 counties without an existing drug court and hundreds of larger municipalities and larger cities that don't have one. 

Many times judges cannot afford to operate a drug court, according to DeWine. He said that the judges can't afford to hire the intensity probation officers or treatment providers that are necessary for such a program. 

Attorney General DeWine also admitted that the epidemic is not just a law enforcement problem, it's also a business crisis. 

During his message, DeWine said that in traveling across Ohio the number one complaint he hears from employers and businesses is that they can't meet the needs of their company with the workforce that's available. 

"We can't find workers who can pass a drug test," DeWine said. "It is a problem so grave that is is slowing the growth of jobs in Ohio. It is slowing the growth of business."

That's why DeWine proposed two new initiatives that could be piloted by the State of Ohio's Bureau of Worker's Compensation. 

The first pilot program would empower employers to help get workers treatment while still maintaining a job. 

The BWC program would be aimed at existing employees going to the employer and admitting they have an addiction problem. 

The Bureau of Workers Compensation would then collaborate with the employer to pay for a portion associated with drug treatment that allows the employee to return to their job when they have completed the addiction treatment program.

The second option presented by DeWine would be a program that would incentivize employers who hire former addicts or those who have gone through recovery treatment. 

DeWine argued that the BWC could start a program to provide perks to employers that hire those who have undergone a drug recovery program. For example, DeWine said that the BWC could reimburse a portion of the employee's wages for up to one year, provide necessary training, and indemnify the employer in the case that the employee relapses and causes a work-related injury. 

DeWine argued that an option like this would not only promote job growth in the state, but would also overcome the stigma of addiction, promote mental health recovery in addicts, and help create safe workplaces. 

In addition, the Attorney General focused on a need for education and early intervention in the state. 

Which is why portions of DeWine's plan include enhancing drug prevention lessons in schools, a collaboration with news media organizations, and expanding intervention campaigns that target families and foster children. 

Attorney General DeWine said that the most powerful tool in the fight against addiction is early intervention and education children before they become exposed to drugs. 

Under the proposal, DeWine looks to see drug prevention programs initiated in every K-12 school across the state. In addition, DeWine said that there should be a requirement that every student receive age-appropriate, evidence-based education. 

DeWine said they would also like to begin a statewide media campaign, working closely with the private sector. 

The Attorney General said that there have been numerous successful public media campaigns that change behavior and public perceptions. 

Under DeWine's idea, the program would include partnerships with television stations, radio stations, newspapers, social media, and toolkits for parents, coaches, teachers, and faith leaders. 

Lastly, under education, DeWine wants to expand a program that is already in operation in 18 of Ohio's 88 counties. 

The family crisis intervention program targets the whole family or children who have been placed in foster care. The idea is to provide counseling and intervention to stop the cyclical nature of addiction in those who have been traumatized by the epidemic. 

One of the last ideas presented by the Attorney General was to create a special position, which would have Cabinet-level authority, and report directly to the Governor. 

DeWine said the focus would be to devote a single position to someone who would work every day with the single-minded purpose of battling the epidemic and could work across bureaucratic lines and impact separate agencies and departments. 

Attorney General DeWine said that portions of the plan are not terribly expensive. For example, DeWine speculated that initiating the crime data infrastructure would cost approximately $10 million, drug task force models across the state could cost about $10 million and that the expanded task forces would cost approximately $4.5 million a year. 

However, portions of the plan, such as expanding treatment, and student loan forgiveness for critical specialists, could cost billions of dollars. 

DeWine admitted that his plan is just a blueprint- an idea of where the state could go, and what could be done, with settlement money from the drug manufacturing companies. 

DeWine said that these initiatives should be paid for by the people who are chiefly responsible for the crisis - and that is the drug companies.  

Monday he sent a letter to Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, and Allergan - the companies he filed suit against in May.   He is giving them 30 days to come forward and begin settlement solutions.   

He also sent letters today to Cardinal Health, McKesson, and Amerisource Bergen, drug distributors who flooded the state with pills that they knew far exceeded medical need.  DeWine asked them to come forward to pay their fair share as well but clarified that he has not yet filed a lawsuit against them. 

However, he warned that if they are unwilling to step up and take responsibility, legal action could be taken. 

DeWine said that it is no secret that the funding needed to battle the opioid epidemic is not in the state budget, and said that it shouldn't have to come from the rainy day fund that has been built on the backs of taxpayers.

In addition, DeWine argued that everyone knows that Medicaid funding at the federal level is not sustainable at its current level. He said there is currently a fair expectation that federal lawmakers will cut Medicaid at least in sense of the rate of growth. 

"They will ramp down the rate of growth when that is done it will have implications for Ohio. The hope is that they will give more authority to the local governments to redesign program," he said. "That's where we are. It's no longer are you for or against it. It's just what are you going to do when they do this."

"In my opinion, any governor is going to have to prioritize addiction when that happens," DeWine continued. "Many battling addictions have mental health issues, not all, but many. We need to look at how to allocate these funds with a huge opiate problem and a serious mental health problem." 


 

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