Governor Steve Beshear on Wednesday announced the formation of an interstate task force with Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia to target the illegal prescription drug problem in Kentucky and neighboring states.
"We've all got a tremendous problem," Beshear said in an interview. "This problem is destroying a lot of our families in Kentucky. ... We think together we can be a lot more effective."
Over the past several years, addicts and drug traffickers from Kentucky increasingly have been traveling to clinics in other states such as Florida and Michigan to get pain pills and anti-depressant prescriptions. They then bring the narcotics back to Kentucky to sell or abuse.
Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia have had similar problems.
Some Kentuckians also are visiting physicians in border states in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions, said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In addition, officials on the task force want to address overprescribing by physicians within their given states.
"By working together, we can better identify prescribers, dispensers and patients who are exploiting our borders in order to abuse, misuse or divert prescription drugs," Beshear said in a statement.
Beshear, who faces re-election in November, said all four states have excellent prescription monitoring programs that are effective within their own borders. He said the success of the task force will hinge on its ability to develop information sharing through those programs, such as Kentucky's All Schedule Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system.
KASPER, is a statewide prescription drug monitoring program that tracks controlled substance prescriptions dispensed within the state. A KASPER report shows all scheduled prescriptions for an individual over a specified time period, as well as the prescriber and the dispenser.
At the Interstate Prescription Drug Task Force's first meeting in Ashland Wednesday, representatives from the four states discussed strategy and identified funding and educational opportunities, officials said.
The task force will eventually provide recommendations to each state's governor regarding best practices for cooperation among the states in fighting prescription drug abuse.
Earlier this month, Beshear announced Kentucky and Ohio have begun automatically exchanging prescription medication data, following the launch of the electronic Prescription Monitoring Information Exchange (PMIX).
The PMIX program is a partnership between the KASPER system and the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS). Linking the two systems is expected to help doctors and police cut down on the number of people fraudulently obtaining prescriptions.
The states began planning a multi-state task force after Beshear met with Ohio Governor John Kasich in May on the prescription drug problem. They thought Tennessee and West Virginia should be included, Beshear said.
The governor said Kentucky also can improve its own use of KASPER by expanding the number of doctors who use the system. Also, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, prodded the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last week to step up oversight of doctors who prescribe questionable amounts of pain pills.
"I think Speaker Stumbo raised some very valid issues ... about how we look at pill clinics and how we identify them and how we deal with them," Beshear said.
Kentucky's portion of the task force includes representatives from the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, the Kentucky State Police, the Office of Drug Control Policy, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas or HIDTA, Operation UNITE, the Governor's Office and the Attorney General's Office. Ingram said about 30 officials from the four states were at Wednesday's meeting.
"Law enforcement officers estimate that the majority of the illegal pills in Kentucky come in across state lines," Attorney General Jack Conway said in a statement. "I look forward to working with our law enforcement partners in Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee to share resources that will ultimately benefit the entire region."