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Drug distributors face new state rules to fight opioid crisis

More than 500 wholesale drug distributors will soon be required to flag suspicious orders their customers make for powerful painkillers, according to new rules the Ohio Board of Pharmacy adopting to combat the opiate epidemic.

“There is nothing in the country like this. These rules are going to be very tough, they’re going to be very specific, they’re going to be very clear and they’ll have to be followed, said Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Thursday.

Doctors and other health care professionals prescribe controlled substances and pharmacies fill those prescriptions. Distributors purchase from manufacturers and sell the drugs to some 20,000 pharmacies, clinics and hospitals across the state.

The rules will require:

• uniform, detailed and timely reporting of suspicious orders to the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System;

• research on customers so distributors better understand when an order might be deemed suspicious;

• holding off shipment of suspicious orders until they are investigated further.

Distributors that fail to abide by the new rules risk losing their state licenses, Kasich said.

Related: Congress continues investigation into Springboro pharmacy distributor

The Board of Pharmacy rules say that suspicious orders may be any orders of more than 5,000 unit doses, any that appear to be statistical outliers based on previous purchases, uncommon methods of payment, or an unusual frequency of orders.

The OARRS system, created in 2006, is a powerful data tracking tool that has been beefed up in recent years to help Ohio crack down on “doctor shopping,” close pill mills and reduce prescription painkillers being misused.

Related: Drug crisis in Ohio: What solutions are making a difference?

Prescribers, pharmacists and distributors are required to report to and check OARRS. In October 2015, the system averaged 65,000 queries a day and by December 2017 that average climbed to 444,000 queries per day, according to Ohio Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Steven Schierholt.

Related: Local drug deaths: Hundreds die but ‘it’s a lot less’ than expected

Ohio has taken steps to combat the opioid crisis, including expanding Ohio Medicaid under Obamacare, which freed up money for drug addiction treatment services; requiring pharmacy technicians to register with the Board of Pharmacy; limit opiate prescriptions to a 90-day supply; and issue prescribing guidelines for chronic pain management clinics, emergency rooms, and acute care facilities.

The state issued new mandatory restrictions on opiate prescriptions for acute pain in August 2017.

Related: Ohio sets new limits on painkiller prescriptions

Kasich said Ohio is at a six-year low in accidental fatal drug overdoses attributed to prescription opiates.

The Ohio Department of Health data show accidental fatal drug overdoses climbed from 3,050 in 2015 to 4,050 in 2016. But the number of fatalities attributed to prescription overdoses fell to to 564 in 2016 — a 15 percent drop over 2015 and the lowest number since 2009.

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