Taking on the Opioid Epidemic

Taking on the Opioid Epidemic


Florida is on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. According to the Florida Behavioral Health Association, opioid-related hospital costs amounted to $1.1 billion in 2015. This figure represents a steady increase in opioid-related hospital costs year over year, which were $460 million in 2010 and $933 million in 2014.2) Moreover, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiner’s Commission there were 5,725 opioid-related deaths reported in Florida in 2016. This represents a 35% increase in reported opioid-related deaths from the prior year. Prescription drugs, including opioids, were found to be the cause of death or present at death more often than illicit drugs, and accounted for 61% of all drug occurrences.

The State of Florida is fighting back. On May 3, 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an Executive Order declaring the existence of a Public Health Emergency as a result of the opioid epidemic. The Executive Order allows immediate access to the Opioid Targeted State Federal Response Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Grant provides “$27,150,403 per year for two years to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery support services by state agencies”. Additionally, in September 2017 Governor Scott issued a legislative proposal including but not limited to instituting a 3-day limit on prescribed opioids (or 7-day limit if deemed “medically necessary”), requiring all healthcare professionals who prescribe or dispense medication to participate in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), and a $50 million budget allocation for countering substance abuse.

In October 2017 the Florida House and Senate introduced bills to effectuate Governor Scott’s proposal, including mandatory participation of healthcare providers in the PDMP. This proposed legislation represents a significant shift in policy since, as of November 2016, only 21 percent of Florida physicians and 57 percent of Florida pharmacists are registered with the PDMP. While proponents argue increased registration with the PDMP will stem opportunities for patients to abuse opioids, some doctors argue that participation in the PDMP has drawbacks. These drawbacks include strain on doctors’ hectic schedules, unnecessary scrutiny of low-risk drugs, seemingly arbitrary prescription limits, and lack of integration between the PDMP and electronic health records.

The House and Senate bills are currently winding their way through the complex legislative process and are likely to undergo changes as stakeholders weigh in. Due to the significant impact this legislation may have on patients and healthcare providers alike, it is important for Florida healthcare providers to stay apprised of the legislation in the coming months.

Brent Allen & Adam Prom are attorneys with the law firm Hall Booth Smith, P.C.