COLUMBUS, Ohio — Continued bad news about drug overdose deaths in Ohio is focusing attention on calls to expand Medicaid coverage for more state residents.
The head of the state's addictions agency said Tuesday that data showing a record high number of deaths from prescription painkillers and other drugs in 2011 is one more reason to expand the federal-state program for poor children and families.
Nearly five Ohioans died every day from overdose deaths in 2011, most of them attributed to continued abuse of painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone as well as rising abuse of heroin, according to Department of Health data released last week.
"We need to make sure to the extent that we can that insurance is available for the vast numbers of people in our state struggling with addiction," Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, said Tuesday. "From my perspective, it is a moral imperative."
Gov. John Kasich's plan to expand Medicaid was rejected by his fellow Republican lawmakers. Some GOP legislators are concerned about the cost to the federal government, while others are philosophically opposed to the idea because it's part of President Barack Obama's health care plan.
The Health Department data show the number of people who died of accidental overdoses jumped 14 percent in 2011 for a total of 1,765 overall deaths.
The increase comes as Ohio has launched numerous efforts to crack down on illegal prescription painkiller use and distribution. That includes shutting down clinics throughout southern Ohio dubbed "pill mills" where addicts pay cash for painkiller prescriptions — and sometimes the pills themselves — after undergoing only cursory medical exams.
The state has also been promoting use of medications aimed at controlling addictions. Earlier this month, officials announced the opening of the Health Recovery Services Southern Ohio Treatment Center in Jackson. The center offers patients counseling and anti-addiction medication.
In October, the state changed the way doctors can bill Medicaid for an expensive painkiller addiction treatment, a move that boosted use of the drug in Ohio.
Counselors, families affected by addiction and recovering addicts shared their stories Tuesday at a state conference addressing the drug overdose epidemic.
One woman told of the trauma of losing her teenage son to a single dose of methadone he took when someone raided an elderly person's medicine cabinet in New Carlisle and passed the drugs through school. An ex-pharmacist from Alliance explained how he destroyed his career and broke up his marriage because of a pain pill addiction that began when he wrenched his back.
Bethani Temple of Prospect said she got hooked on pain pills leftover from her father's cancer treatment, then switched to heroin because it was so much cheaper. She stayed addicted while pregnant with her first child, a daughter born with drug addiction symptoms.
Eventually, an arrest and tough treatment from a Marion County drug court helped her beat the addiction. Others who Temple knew weren't so lucky, including a former boyfriend killed in a car crash two years ago while high on heroin.
Temple, 28, is married with two children — her 2-year-old daughter now healthy — and about to graduate from college.
"It's really important that treatment's available for all people who are in active addiction because if they don't get the treatment they deserve, they're going to die," Temple said. "That's the reality of this disease."
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.