Ohio Prosecutors Fight Rx Abuse

NOVEMBER 01, 2006
Cmdr John Burke

Last year, 2 armed men walked into a small independent pharmacy on the Indiana-Ohio border and demanded a variety of controlled substances. They left the pharmacy and drove east into Butler County, Ohio, already consuming some of the pain medicines they had forcibly removed during the robbery.

Once into Butler County, the 2 were stopped by Butler County Deputy Brandon Roberts, who then approached the car. At almost point-blank range, Roberts was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun, with the car then driving off. Fortunately, Deputy Roberts survived, and the 2 subjects were arrested without further incident and have since been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Fed Up With Holdups

Robin Piper, Butler County prosecutor, decided he had seen enough of the prescription drug problem in his area and wanted to do something about it. He hired an experienced drug diversion investigator, Robert Mortimer, and called area law enforcement, court officials, and health professionals together to discuss the problem and move toward a solution.

The results of his initiative have been dramatic, as the number of criminal cases in Butler County has almost doubled over 2005, with several more months left in 2006. In addition, he has launched a prescription drug abuse hotline for people to report drug diversion offenses. Also, prescription drug abuse brochures will soon be showing up in doctor's waiting rooms and pharmacies, as Piper sees cooperation from health professionals to be crucial to the program's success.

Drug Court

Butler County has a drug court, and Piper indicates that most of the defendants with addiction problems in this court will find themselves with the ability to take control of their lives again and fight their addiction with close monitoring. This is his goal for the nonviolent prescription drug offenders, who will get a second chance at living a productive life.

Rx Abuse Help

Meanwhile, in Warren County, Ohio, Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel has been making a dent in this problem through aggressive prosecution and the introduction of prescription drug abuse programs through our local Coalition for a Drug-free Warren County. She has made this issue a top priority, noting that almost 90% of the grand jury cases involve drugs, and prescription drug abuse continues to grow in this southwest Ohio County, which borders Cincinnati and Butler County.

Hutzel is in the process of sending out a mass mailing to thousands of Warren County residents to inform them about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. She also has sponsored prescription drug abuse training for all area law enforcement personnel, providing one of her criminal prosecutors to educate cops as to the laws governing drug diversion offenses in Ohio.

These are 2 examples of prosecutors taking action regarding prescription drug abuse. Their jurisdictions are better served by the fact that they recognize this problem and are working with law enforcement and health professionals to address drug diversion in their counties.

In several past articles, I have talked about the need to get your police administrators and/or your county prosecutor to take prescription drug abuse seriously. They truly hold the key as to what extent those diverting prescription drugs will be criminally pursued.

The effort by these 2 innovative prosecutors can be repeated around the country, and you may be the person who can start it in your community. Use your pharmacy association, your state board, or your personal local acquaintances to get an initiative like those in Ohio moving in your town.

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 38-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.