On January 4, Governor John Kasich signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 319, the mid-biennium review legislation regarding opiates and Ohio’s fight against drug abuse. SB 319, sponsored by Senator John Eklund (R- Geauga County), enacts additional reforms to strengthen oversight by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy (SOBP) to encourage responsible treatment and prevent overdoses.
- Allows facilities that regularly interact with high-risk individuals (for example, homeless shelters, halfway houses, schools and drug treatment centers) to have onsite access to naloxone, an overdose antidote that can save lives.
- Allocates $500,000 in state money for local government first responders to purchase and carry naloxone.
- Requires Ohio’s 42,000 pharmacy technicians to register with the SOBP. Over the past three years, pharmacy technicians have accounted for more than one-third of all drug theft cases investigated by the SOBP, and the lack of a registration process makes it too easy for a technician who is fired for theft to find new employment with another pharmacy.
- Requires that Suboxone treatment facilities that treat 30 or more patients be licensed by the SOBP unless the facility is a licensed hospital or is already certified by the state. Physician ownership of office-based opiate treatment clinics along with mandatory background checks for the owners and employees of these facilities are also required.
- Gives oversight authority to the SOBP when sole proprietors (doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and others) distribute controlled substances to their patients. An exemption in current Ohio law allows sole proprietors to distribute controlled substances to their patients without any oversight from the SOBP. In 2015, exempted prescribers purchased more than 6.5 million doses of controlled substances, including more than 3 million doses of opiates.
- Limits the amount of opiate pills that can be dispensed from a single prescription to a 90-day supply and invalidates opiate prescriptions that are unused after 30 days.
- Allows for-profit methadone clinics to open and waives the requirement that providers be certified in Ohio for two years prior to becoming a methadone clinic. The number of methadone clinics in Ohio is insufficient and some people travel hours each day to get methadone, a recognized medical treatment for addiction.
- Provides civil immunity to first responders and other authorized to administer naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.
The new law, which takes effect in 90 days, is the latest attempt to address Ohio’s addiction crisis. Despite investing almost $1 billion a year to fight drug abuse and addiction, accidental overdoses claimed 3,050 lives in Ohio in 2015, up 20.5% over 2014.
The number of prescription opiate doses has declined and accidental overdose deaths attributed to opioids have also begun to decline slightly in recent years, but deaths attributable to heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and benzodiazepines have been climbing.