In late October, legislators in Florida gathered at the Senate to watch a poignant video from Elizabeth Pine, a woman whose son suffered a fatal heroin overdose. In the video, Pine described her son’s descent into addiction, which started with excessive and uncontrolled prescriptions of the opioid painkiller Oxycontin.
Being prescribed too many opioid medications at once is something that the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association believes is a causal agent of the ongoing opioid epidemic that has been sweeping across the United States, particularly in communities suffering from socioeconomic distress. Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, speaking on behalf of Florida Republicans, explained that the practice of filling lengthy opioid prescriptions is a pathway to the current crisis; a 90-day prescription of Vicodin, for example, could end up in the black market if the patient only needed to take the medication for three days.
A main goal of the bill is to limit the ability of physicians to limit opioid prescriptions to just three days; in some cases, a doctor may extend the prescription to one week with proper documentation. Florida lawmakers are positive that the three-day prescription rule will pass, but the new law will also have to include certain exceptions for patients who may be suffering from terminal conditions.
Florida’s Pill Mill History
This is the second time in this decade that legislators in the Sunshine State have had to intervene and regulate prescription of powerful opioid medications. In 2010, lawmakers moved to terminate the state’s pill mill industry, which was seen as a major public health risk.
Pill mills in Florida masqueraded as pain clinics where prescriptions of Oxycontin and other painkillers were widely issued to patients who regularly abused the system. Unscrupulous doctors were known to write opioid prescriptions for even the most mundane complaints of back pain and without conducting adequate diagnostic exams. After years of investigations by undercover detectives, dozens of pill mills were shut down until legislation was enacted to prevent them.
Unfortunately, substance abuse counselors believe that cracking down on pill mills only resulted in patients becoming addicted to heroin. Oxycontin and other opioid drugs were nicknamed “luxury heroin” by users and street dealer; once that market was shut down, heroin became the drug of choice for many addicts.
Medical examiners in Florida estimate that more than 3,000 state residents died from prescription drug abuse during the first six months of 2016. In recent weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump introduced a White House initiative to increase awareness about the American opioid crisis.