Misuse of prescription medicines such as those used to dull the pain of injuries and some illnesses accounts for a substantial number of people with serious drug addictions.
And as one leader of an anti-drug abuse organization told us, opiate painkillers often are a stepping stone to more serious drugs, such as heroin.
Many of those hooked on legal medicines began using them because their doctors wrote prescriptions intended to help patients cope with pain from injuries, surgeries and sometimes, illnesses. Sometimes, the cost of paying for such drugs is covered by government programs such as workers' compensation.
Abuse of pain pills has become such a problem in Ohio that the Bureau of Workers' Compensation has begun monitoring prescriptions for injured workers more closely. The agency also has installed new safeguards to prevent abuse.
The amount of drugs prescribed for Ohioans covered by workers' compensation certainly ought to raise eyebrows. During the past five years, more than 188.5 million doses of narcotics have been paid for by the bureau. Last year alone, opiate painkillers were prescribed for 39,028 men and women covered by workers' compensation.
For most of its history, the agency paid little attention to the problem of painkiller abuse. That changed in 2011. Now, injured workers' use of opiates is monitored every month. Bureau officials are thinking of doing the same thing for anti-anxiety drugs, which also can be abused.
It surely is no coincidence that now that workers' compensation claimants and their doctors know the bureau is watching, use of some drugs is decreasing. Prescriptions for opiates for injured workers have decreased nearly 28 percent since 2010.
Obviously, the bureau should have been doing these things many years ago. Better late than never, however.
Now that state officials have evidence they can make a difference, they should look for other ways to help reduce misuse of prescription drugs - perhaps through monitoring for Medicaid clients similar to that already being done at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
Certainly, such a step would result in a firestorm of complaints - but if it helps save some Ohioans from the perils of drug abuse, it would be worth the controversy.