COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thousands of pharmacy technicians would be licensed by the state for the first time as part of efforts to fight Ohio's addictions epidemic, under budget proposals announced Tuesday by Gov. John Kasich.
Pharmacy technicians were responsible for one-third of about 140 pharmacy drug thefts over the past three years, said Steven Schierholt, the Ohio Pharmacy Board's executive director. Ohio is one of only eight states that doesn't license the technicians, he said.
The state estimates about 42,000 pharmacy technicians currently work in Ohio and are subject only to employer background checks.
"With the current system, if a pharmacy technician engages in theft from a pharmacy, and if an employer chooses to fire them or allow them to resign, nothing keeps them from going down the street and getting another job," Schierholt said.
Kasich, a Republican running for president, announced several proposals Tuesday to address Ohio's addictions epidemic as record numbers of people continue to die from painkiller and heroin overdoses. The proposals are part of a mid-session budget review process.
Among other measures, the state would:
- Require facilities where prescribers treat 30 or more patients with Suboxone, a medication used as part of substance abuse treatment, to be licensed by the pharmacy board unless the facility is a licensed hospital.
- Expand the use of the anti-overdose drug naloxone, sold as Narcan, to schools, homeless shelters, halfway houses and treatment centers. The drug is already available without a prescription to people with friends and family members who are addicts. First responders such as paramedics have used it to save hundreds of lives in Ohio.
- Require sole proprietors, such as doctors, veterinarians, dentists and other health care professionals in private practices, to be licensed by the pharmacy board if they distribute controlled substances to their patients.
- Waive the requirement that medical providers be certified in Ohio for two years prior to operating a methadone clinic to increase the availability of the treatment option.
- Place a cap of 90 days' worth on a painkiller prescription and require anyone who doesn't have that prescription filled after 30 days to get a new one. These limits are meant to reduce the number of pills in people's medicine cabinets, often a leading source of initial addiction, said Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director of the state Mental Health and Addiction Services agency.
"Many people don't realize that the initial source of opiate medications is not from a drug dealer on a street, it's from family or friends," Hurst said.
Accidental drug overdoses have killed more Ohioans than car crashes since 2007. A record 2,482 people in Ohio died from accidental overdoses in 2014, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
Ohio previously set guidelines to reduce the prescribing of painkillers in emergency rooms and for closer monitoring of prescriptions for people suffering chronic pain, such as cancer patients.
State medical officials also say people with short-term pain from injuries or surgery should be given alternatives to prescription painkillers whenever possible.