Florida Legislature passes bill to combat opioid epidemic

Author: Associated Press
In this Monday, March 13, 2017 photo, students and teachers gather for an all-school meeting called “circle” at Hope Academy in Indianapolis. For teenagers in treatment for addiction, returning to school means resisting offers to get high with old friends. Researchers say these kids do better at special “recovery schools” that use peer pressure in a different way, to support sobriety. Hope Academy in Indianapolis is one of about three dozen recovery schools in the United States.

Florida will institute prescription limits on opioids and increase funding for treatment under a bill passed by the state Legislature on Friday.

The legislation to combat the state’s opioids crisis – which claims the lives of at least 16 Sunshine State residents per day – was a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature before the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed.

The bill, which heads to Scott’s desk, was passed during the final hours that non-budget bills could be considered in this year’s session after the House and Senate agreed to final details on funding. Since the bill has all the things that Scott has requested, he is expected to sign it.

“We wouldn’t have gone home without a bill. It was important to our communities and the Governor. Everyone is personally affected,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who was the Senate’s main sponsor.

According to a 2017 report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, opioids were identified as either the cause of death or were present in the decedent’s system in 5,725 cases in 2016. That’s 1,483 more than 2015. The 2017 figures are still being compiled.

The new legislation mandates that most initial prescriptions would have a limit of three days for Schedule II painkillers like Oxycontin and Fentanyl, but doctors could prescribe up to seven days for acute pain exceptions. It does not place medication limits for trauma cases, chronic pain, cancer and terminal illnesses.

Florida will be the 25th state since 2016 that has passed legislation that imposes some limits or guidelines on opioid prescriptions. Only two others – Kentucky and Minnesota – have statutory limits of three or four days.

The bill also calls for $53.5 million in state and federal grant funding for treatment programs and updates the state’s prescription database. The funding total is slightly more than the $53 million Scott proposed last year when he declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency last May.

“In the big picture this is a great initiative,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, who has the House’s sponsor. “Hopefully the limits will keep patients off heavy meds and prevent addiction.”

Mark Fontaine, who is the Executive Director for the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, said the legislation should provide everyone with tools needed to combat a growing epidemic.

“It has the critical components that we need. The reality is this is receiving a lot of attention and the cases of overdoses and deaths are not abating,” he said.

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