Gov. Rick Scott used a stop in Bradenton, an epicenter of the opioid epidemic in Florida, to announce proposed legislation and more than $50 million in funding requests to combat opioid abuse.
The proposed legislation, according to the news release from the governor’s office, will include:
▪ Placing a three-day limit on prescribed opioids, unless strict conditions are met for a seven-day supply.
▪ Requiring all healthcare professionals who prescribe or dispense medication to participate in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a statewide database that monitors controlled substance prescriptions.
▪ Additional reforms to fight unlicensed pain management clinics, require continuing education courses on responsibly prescribing opioids, and create new opportunities for federal grant funding.
Scott made the announcement Tuesday at the Bradenton Police Department, with law enforcement and other officials serving as the backdrop for the news conference.
“We made a commitment here in Florida to do everything possible to support our communities and fight the national opioid epidemic, and while we have taken major steps to fight this crisis, more must be done,” Scott said.
CVS Health has already announced limiting opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients with acute ailments, according to USA Today.
Scott also said he will request more than $50 million in his proposed 2018-19 state budget to fund more substance abuse treatment; counseling and recovery services; and for the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council.
“As I travel the state, I have met many families who are dealing with the heartache of drug addiction,” Scott said in the release. “Growing up, my own family dealt with the struggle of substance abuse and I know firsthand how this painful issue causes families to worry and pray for help and healing. As states across the country continue to fight this national epidemic, we must make sure Florida is doing our part to help vulnerable individuals and keep our families safe.”
Scott also emphasized the use of the state’s drug monitoring system that will be included in the legislation.
“I think by making sure people use it before they prescribe is the right thing to do,” Scott said. “What I’ve learned in the last 6 1/2 years of being governor is it’s not like one thing you do, it’s all of them.”
Melissa Larkin-Skinner, CEO of Centerstone of Florida, said she is in favor of participating in the monitoring program included in the proposed legislation.
“That is common sense, it’s just hard because it takes time,” Larkin-Skinner said.
But she hopes that, with the limitation on prescriptions, those with chronic pain are able to still find ways to manage the pain and medications.
“I understand kind of the need for it because we have to stop (the epidemic) somehow, but I also feel for folks dealing with chronic pain — and we have to find something for them,” Larkin-Skinner said.
She welcomed the news that long-awaited funding might finally come through. But Larkin-Skinner also said she will remain cautiously optimistic that the funding won’t come as part of a cut from somewhere else in the budget.
“It’s exciting because at least they’re talking about it,” Larkin-Skinner added.
In Bradenton, there have been 15 overdose deaths in connection with opioid use this year, according to a report from Bradenton police. There have been 221 reported overdoses in the city.
“We know we can’t police our way to solving this problem,” Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said.
He said the governor’s proposals will help “immensely” in the fight against opioids.
“Collectively, communities can benefit from this,” Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan said. “That’s the way that we’re really going to do something to tackle this issue is when we all come together collectively to address it and so the support and everybody’s focus toward us is really going to accomplish great things.”
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, took a moment to point out a recently passed bill that increased penalties for drug dealers.
“That penalty bill is going to work. It’s going to tell traffickers and dealers that we’re serious about this, and then today’s initiative will go a long way to helping us fight this,” Boyd said.
There are still gaps in dealing with opioids and addiction, Boyd added, and Scott’s proposal “goes a long way to filling in some of the other gaps.”
In a tweet, Rep. Vern Buchanan said Tuesday, “Kudos (to Scott) for shining light on opioid epidemic. First responders also must have tools to stop overdoses on scene.”
Scott touted Attorney General Pam Bondi and law enforcement officials for their work in the fight against opioids.
“My heart goes out to anyone dealing with this, and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent it, and we’re going to do everything we can to hold those accountable that continue,” Scott said.
When asked why funding was just coming along now, years into the epidemic, Scott said they’ve worked through a variety of issues since he came in to office. For example, he said, they first fought the pill mills, but “this is the right thing to be doing right now.”
“The No. 1 thing, if you could do it, if you could prevent the abuse in the first place,” Scott said.
But not everyone is thrilled with the idea of limitations on prescriptions.
“When patients seek physician help for an opioid use disorder — or need comprehensive care for chronic pain — one-size-fits-all limits, such as blanket prior authorization protocols, may cause delays in care that could severely harm patients,” Dr. Patrice Harris, chairwoman of the American Medical Association’s opioids task force, told CNN when CVS announced limitations on opioid prescriptions from their pharmacies.
Some comments left on a post to the Bradenton Herald Facebook page with a link to Scott’s announcement stated worries that cutting back the prescription amounts will only hurt those who need the medication to manage their chronic pain.
Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham believes Scott could be doing more. During an addiction-treatment workday in Boca Raton, Graham called on Scott and Bondi to sue pharmaceutical companies for their role in Florida’s opioid crisis, according to a release.
“Florida should be leading the nation in holding pharmaceutical companies accountable, just as Lawton Chiles took on the tobacco companies,” Graham said in the release.
Graham noted that Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Oklahoma have already taken action to sue pharmaceutical companies.