Working to Understand the Opioid Crisis: OH Pharmacy Director Receives Governor’s Award


By Angela Underwood

The stats on injured workers and opioid abuse are rising as you read this report.

This week alone, has addressed the public plague of opioid abuse through the eyes of industry experts Peter Rousmaniere and Joseph Paduda in respective reports Rousmaniere: Getting Off Opioids and Tracking the Opioid Epidemic in Injured Workers, which is why it is important for our news center to report a little faith among the fear in Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Pharmacy Director Johnnie Hanna receiving the Governor's Award for Employee Excellence this afternoon.

Before receiving the award, for structuring a model pharmacy program and assisting injured workers in avoiding opiate addiction at a Statehouse ceremony today, Hanna took some time to speak with our news center about how the veteran pharmacist and his team lowered BWC drug costs by $46 million in just seven years, while simultaneously reducing opioid doses by 18.9 million to nearly half their 2011 levels.

“It truly was a team effort,” he said of the peers he has worked closely with for eight years. “We have been blessed with management that understood the issue and were willing to let me break a lot of dishes to get things done,” said the pharmacist, who is a member of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team.

Hanna said 2010 was when he saw trouble. “What I saw was a very high level of opioid utilization among our injured worker population. Prior to that time no one really put metrics on our patient base and I don’t think most folks were measuring what kind of opioid loads people were really getting. I was just fortunate to be able to connect a lot of dots quickly here,” he said.

As for the cause, Hanna cuts right to the chase. “I honestly believe we got here because there was a convergence of market and production and receptive provider population and a receptive patient population,” he explained. “We had a confluence of several streams that created this river of abuse.”

Pointing out Purdue Pharma’s role in it all, Hanna said they must bear ownership of the opioid problem today since “they took they took the marketing tools they used to promote valium in the 60s and applied those marketing tools.

“They created the face of pain management in America,” he said. According to Hanna, the aftermath of said actions have created a massive pool of injured workers who “workers who were caught up in that now are now receiving huge dosages of opiates and quite honestly, I don’t know what we can do for them.”

Hanna said when any pharmacist is willing to count out 720 80-milligram OxyContin tablets and 540 30-milligram oxycodone tablets and hand those to a patient every month is unconscionable. “I was on the Board of Pharmacy in the 1990’s and if I was on the Board of Pharmacy today, I would have someone ripping his licenses off the wall.”

Referencing "Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” based out of Portsmouth, OH, the veteran pharmacy director noted the regional author Sam Quinones is just 35 miles south of his residence.

“That book was written about a place 35 miles from my hometown, where I live today. In my hometown, every week we have stories of people in their 50s and 60s arrested,” he said of patients caught abusing opioid type drugs.

Robert Wilson, CEO of, applauds the focus that Ohio has placed on this particular issue. He says that, “solving the opioid problem is going to take the focus of the highest government offices in the country, and the fact that Governor Kasich has recognized the success of the BWC’s team’s efforts means they are all engaged to address it.” Wilson also believes the BWC’s impressive results could serve as a model for others in workers’ comp, saying, “This is a horrible epidemic that is destroying many, many lives. We as an industry had a role in creating it, and need to have the courage and commitment to lead the way out of it.” 

As for the future, Hanna said officials in the workers’ compensation industry must get serious about putting effective limits on opioid prescribing. “They have to put their voices together with the state agencies and come together to focus on the problem,” he said, noting regulation and legislation is the way it must happen. “The workers’ comp side has a voice in government and they need to apply that leverage to help the government move forward.”

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