By Jim Provance

Gov. John Kasich recently signed another bill targeting Ohio's opiate and heroin epidemic.

In 2015, Ohio led the nation in opioid overdose deaths.

Senate Bill 319, sponsored by Sen. John Eklund (R., Chardon), expands access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone to entities such as homeless shelters, halfway houses, schools, and treatment centers that deal with populations at high risk of heroin overdose. It also offers civil immunity to law enforcement officers who carry and use naloxone.

"We have spent a billion dollars on this issue. A billion dollars...," Mr. Kasich said. "Thank God we expanded Medicaid, because that Medicaid money is helping to rehab people...There are going to be more tools to come, but we're not going to defeat this just from the top down."

He made the argument that the real answer is in talking to youths on ball fields and schools about drugs and to stop prescribing so many prescription painkillers in the first place.

The new law closes an exemption in current law that allows sole proprietors in private practice -- doctors, veterinarians, dentist, and other health care professionals--to directly distribute medications to patients without oversight from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Such professionals distributed 6.5 million doses, including 3 million doses of opiates, in 2015.

The bill also ends Ohio's status as one of eight states that do not require pharmacy technicians, who have been blamed for roughly a third of all drug theft cases over the last three years, to register with the state pharmacy board. The move subjects them to uniform criminal background checks and competency requirements.

"Four out of five people who were addicted to heroin because they were first addicted to prescription narcotics...," said Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), who sponsored a similar bill in the House. "The heroin addiction is really just a continuation of that addiction that started with those pills."

The number of prescriptions written and shopping by patients to find doctors willing to write those prescriptions are down. But the number of addiction-related deaths continues to climb.

The law will take effect in 90 days.

(c)2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)