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November 4, 2013

HAYDEN: Health trumps ideology for lawmaker

INDIANAPOLIS — In January, on his first day in office, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called for a moratorium on state regulations, saying less government rules would help spur job creation across the Hoosier state.

State Sen. Ron Grooms, a conservative Republican from Jeffersonville, applauded the general notion of “less government intrusion” but decided the health of Hoosiers trumped ideology. During the 2013 session, he authored legislation to impose sweeping new regulations on the providers of prescription painkillers. His intent: To turn back the wave of misuse, abuse, and addiction associated with the most frequently prescribed drugs in the U.S.

How did Grooms come to that decision? Through his personal experience as a pharmacist in Floyd County, where he’d witnessed the rise of suspicious pain management clinics, better known as “pill mills.”

In a recent interview, Grooms recalled how he could track the rise in prescriptions for drugs containing hydrocodone — the chemical derivative of opium — just by tracking his orders.

In the early 1990s, as those drugs were hitting the market, Grooms needed only one bottle of 100 pills each week to fill the hydrocodone prescriptions that came into his pharmacy. By the mid-1990s, he needed to buy one bottle of 500 pills a week to keep up with the demand. By 2006, when he retired, he was ordering 20 bottles of 500 pills each week.

What he saw in his drug store was happening across the nation. The number of prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications like Lortab, Vicodin and their generic equivalents — all marketed as safe, cheap, and effective — was skyrocketing. In 2011, according to federal government estimates, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for about 47 million patients. That comes out to about five billion pills.

“We’d become a society where everything is supposed to be easy and uncomplicated,” Grooms said. And pain treatment was no different: “Treating pain is uncomplicated. You just write a prescription.”

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