Florida’s Raging Painkiller Epidemic: Will Two New Laws Curb the State’s Opiate Addiction Problem?
The jury is still out as to whether two new state laws will alleviate Florida’s painkiller addiction epidemic.
So far, however, the results are encouraging. One year after their introduction, the two policies enacted to combat prescription drug abuse seem to be having a positive effect. In the last 12 months, both the number of prescriptions for painkilling opioids and their dosage strength have dropped ever so slightly, thanks to:
- a new database, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, that helps physicians monitor individual prescriptions, including patient names, dates and amounts prescribed
- a so-called “pill mill measure” — the requirement that pain clinics register with the state and be owned by a certified physician
The two measures reportedly contributed to a modest but notable decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed here in Florida, as evidenced by the following:
- a 1.4% decline in the number of prescriptions written for opioids
- a 2.5% decline in the volume of opioids prescribed (approximately 750,000 fewer pills per month)
- a 5.6% drop in the dosage strength
Policy Solutions to Painkiller Drug Abuse
Such results give folks like Dr. Lainie Rutkow, PhD, a reason to be hopeful. Dr. Rutkow is an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. After Florida’s implementation of the two laws, she and a team of researchers tracked state data on opioid prescriptions, comparing their findings with opioid prescription data in Georgia (where, at the time of the study, such laws did not exist). The researchers published their findings in the August 2015 issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
“These findings support the notion that there are policy solutions to the prescription drug epidemic,” Dr. Rutkow said in a news release.
‘Pill Mills’ and Crooked Doctors Target of National Crackdown
Prior to the introduction of these two new laws, deaths from prescription drug overdoses in Florida jumped by 80% from 2003 to 2009. With growing public alarm over these startling statistics, Florida’s “pill mills,” (largely unregulated pain clinics where so-called doctors write prescriptions with little oversight or accountability), soon found themselves under intensified scrutiny.
One such Florida-based pill mill was reportedly so lucrative that it became a multimillion-dollar drug hub for the South, its doctors at one point prescribing as many as 20 million doses of opioids in two years, funneling the pills to distribution points in West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio. At its peak in 2008, the Florida operation was “the largest pill mill in the country,” according to author and professor Dr. John Temple, PhD, whose new book, American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic, tells the story.
Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided pain clinics, pharmacies and other facilities in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi as part of an unprecedented national crackdown on the illegal sale and distribution of painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The drug bust was the “single largest pharmaceutical operation in DEA history,” one source told NBC News.
Meanwhile, at least one doctor whose private office allegedly doubled as a pill mill is finally getting her day in court. Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng is now on trial for murder, after allegedly prescribing 200 pills, including nearly 100 30-milligram doses of the highly addictive painkiller Roxycodone, to Arizona State University senior Joey Rovero, in December 2009. Rovero died from an overdose nine days later. Rovero’s death is one of three allegedly linked to Dr. Tseng, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder. (The DEA says Dr. Tseng wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions in just three years, at an average of 25 a day.)
Prescription Painkiller Abuse and Fatalities
Florida is not the only state in the U.S. to have seen a dramatic rise in prescription drug fatalities in recent years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 44 Americans die every day from overdosing on doctor-prescribed opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet. That means that of the roughly 100 drug overdose casualties that happen every day in this country, nearly half are opioid-related.
- “In First Year, Two Florida Laws Reduce Amount of Opioids Prescribed, Study Suggests,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- “Opiate addiction spreading, becoming more complex,” Science Daily
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