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12
Feb2018
Florida’s Opioid Crisis

Florida’s Opioid Crisis: A Problem Going From Bad to Worse

A successful electrician with a solid business, money coming in, and a newborn on the way, suddenly injures his back on a particularly difficult project.  His doctor prescribes painkillers.  He takes them for a period of time and becomes addicted.  The opioid prescription ends, but his addiction doesn’t.  So, he turns to heroin.  It satisfies the addiction, but it becomes a financial burden.  Before too long, our once law-abiding electrician who used to make an honest living, now needs to sell heroin to have the money to feed his own addiction.  He is now in federal prison for trafficking in narcotics.  A life destroyed.

A woman suffering from joint pain becomes hooked on the pain medication prescribed by her doctor.  She is a mother of two young girls.  Her downward spiral into drug addiction progresses quickly.  One day, the police discover her children in the back seat of her car, while the woman is passed out from a drug overdose in the front seat.  A family destroyed.

Current statistics show that 91 people in the United States die each day from overdosing on opioids such as oxycodone and heroin.

Opioids Declared a Public Health Emergency in Florida

The human toll of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and particularly in Florida has been devastating.  According to a report released by the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission, there were 5,725 opiate-related deaths in Florida in 2016.  That is a 35% increase in opiate-related deaths from the previous year.  Further, that death toll does not take into account the surviving children and family members who are seriously impacted by the death of their loved ones.

Although complete data is not yet available for 2017, reports appear to indicate that the problem is only getting worse.

As a result, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared in mid-2017 that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency in the State of Florida.  Scott has taken advantage of a $27 million federal grant and has proposed another $26 million in State funds to combat the crisis.  Lawmakers and other state officials, however, claim that $53 million is not enough to tackle the problem.

What Are Opioids, and What is the Source of the Epidemic?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, as well as synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available through a legal prescription such as oxycodone (marketed as OxyContin), hydrocodone (marketed as Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and others.  Opioid painkillers are typically safe when taken for a short time.  However, due to the euphoria that comes from using opioids, they are often misused.  Even regular use (in a manner prescribed by a doctor) can lead to dependence on the drug.  Misuse of opioid pain relievers can lead to overdoses and death.

Of course, pinpointing a sole source for the opioid abuse epidemic can a difficult prospect.  However, it appears that it is largely due to the huge proliferation in opioids prescribed by doctors over the last decade or so.

According to CDC estimates, the number of prescription opioids sold in the United States has almost quadrupled since 1999, while the number of Americans in pain has remained relatively constant.  Moreover, the number of deaths from prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin has also quadrupled since 1999.

In sum, the statistics seem to demonstrate that an increase in the availability of powerful painkillers, legally prescribed by doctors, has led to a parallel increase in opioid overdose deaths.  Simply stated, more prescriptions equal more opiate-related problems.

What is the State of Florida Doing to Address the Epidemic?

The U.S. Attorney General’s recent visit to Florida has underscored the opioid issue for Florida lawmakers.  Accordingly, there a number of legislative proposals on the table, including:

  • Limiting Supply. Several Florida representatives and senators seek to crack down on opioid addiction and abuse by limiting the amount of opioids a doctor can prescribe at any given time.  Specifically, the proposed legislation would restrict patients to only a three-day supply of opioids, unless the patients meet certain conditions that would allow for a seven-day supply.  The notion is that a shortened window of use will lessen abuse and overdoses.
  • Monitoring Prescriptions. All healthcare professionals prescribing medication would be required to participate in Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which seeks to monitor all prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids.
  • Reinstating the ODC. Governor Rick Scott eliminated the Office of Drug Control (ODC) in 2011 to curb government spending.  Unfortunately, that decision seems to have been a mistake given that Florida’s opioid problem has reached epidemic proportions.  Legislation is being put forth to reestablish the ODC as an important way to fight opioid addiction.
  • Providing a Medicaid Waiver. This proposal would direct Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration to seek a Medicaid waiver from the federal government to allow insurance coverage for a larger range of drug treatment options that are currently not covered by Medicaid.

A Word About Naloxone

An opioid overdose is usually accompanied by “respiratory depression,” or slowed breathing, which sometimes slows to a stop.  The best way to counteract those effects is a drug called Naloxone.

Naloxone is so effective at saving the lives of overdose victims that it has become a staple with police and other first responders in overdoes situations.  A portion of the proposed $53 million suggested by Governor Scott will go to Naloxone kits and overdose recognition and response training.

The Florida Legislature has even proposed providing Naloxone as part of an already established needle-exchange program so that the life-saving treatment is already in the hands of drug users and those closest to them.  In less than a year, the Miami-Dade needle-exchange program has distributed 600 doses of Naloxone and received more than half returned after use, which is a likely 300 lives saved.

Final Thoughts

The opioid crisis in Florida and throughout the nation is a serious problem that requires a focused effort on the part of government.  There is likely no single silver bullet that will overcome the epidemic.  Rather, an array of coordinated, targeted initiatives will stem the tide of new opioid addicts and overdoses.  We need to stop this epidemic that is destroying peoples lives.

If you, or a loved one, have legal problems because of an opioid addiction, contact The Law Offices of Thomas J. Lavin right away for assistance from an attorney that has experience with controlled substances cases. Don’t wait to protect yourself and your family from the terrible consequences of opioid addiction.  Seek legal advice today.

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