The Herald Bulletin

April 2, 2013

State AG backs pill mill bill

Zoeller says pain pill abuse is an ‘epidemic’ in US

By Scott Smith
CNHI News Service

KOKOMO, Ind. — When Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller talks about the prescription drug abuse epidemic in Indiana, he often mentions former Scott County Coroner Kevin Collins, who decided not to seek re-election last year.

“He just couldn’t take it anymore. He kept taking teenagers out of homes where they’d overdosed. In a short span he had 26 deaths, almost all of them young kids,” Zoeller said during an interview with the Kokomo Tribune.

Zoeller is trying to get the Indiana General Assembly to give him new authority to review medical records at pain management clinics across the state, and he’s lobbying federal officials to take a more aggressive role in combating the flood of narcotic pills.

“By the time the Centers for Disease Control lists it as an epidemic, it’s not just a loose term being used for description,” Zoeller said. “Each year, you can see this thing get worse and worse.”

For the past two decades, overdose fatalities have risen steadily. The death rate is now four times what it was 20 years ago. And Zoeller, whose authority is largely limited to asking the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana to revoke medical licenses, is seeking more weapons for his arsenal.

On Monday, the Indiana House passed a bill aimed at shutting down thinly regulated pain management clinics around the state. With the Senate expected to concur on slight changes made in the House, the bill appears headed to Gov. Mike Pence, who is expected to sign the measure.

Authored by a Jeffersonville pharmacist, state Sen. Ron Grooms, the bill also creates a process that allows the Indiana Attorney General’s office to ask the state medical licensing board for permission to inspect medical records at pain clinics.

Currently, the only way for the AG’s office to access those records is to wait for law enforcement to serve a search warrant as part of a criminal investigation. Once law enforcement gets the records, then Zoeller’s office can subpoena them.

“I don’t want to start off by accusing doctors of something that’s criminal, but if that’s what I’m left with, I’ll do what I have to do,” Zoeller said.

The bill, SB246, requires every pain management clinic in Indiana be owned and operated by someone who holds a valid registration to prescribe controlled substances.

Finally, the medical licensing board will be asked to begin work to establish standards of care so doctors have a clear definition of ”overprescribing.”

Indiana, Grooms said, doesn’t have a set standard. That’s a problem in and of itself, he added.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.