By Jim Saunders
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE — Saying it is critical to “stop the addiction in the beginning,” Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed a high-profile bill designed to prevent patients from getting hooked on powerful opioids.
Flanked by House leaders and law-enforcement officers at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Scott approved the measure as the state continues grappling with drug overdoses that have surged in recent years. The bill is designed, at least in part, to prevent patients from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and then turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.
“I’ve met a lot of families all across the state who are dealing with drug abuse,” said Scott, who declared a public-health emergency last year because of the opioid issue. “I have a family member that’s dealt with both alcoholism and drug abuse, and I can tell you it’s very difficult for a family.”
Lawmakers unanimously passed the bill (HB 21) on March 9, the final full day of the annual legislative session.
Perhaps the highest-profile part of the bill would place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, though they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.” Cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma would be exempt from the limits.
Some physicians objected during the legislative session to such limits. But House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who took part in Monday’s bill-signing event, defended the approach.
“It (the bill) also says no longer will we prescribe just blanketly 30-day prescriptions. Now we’ll say it’s a three-day prescription, and then you have to come back and warrant (it),” Corcoran said. “Is that an inconvenience? Yes. Is an inconvenience worth saving 50,000 lives nationwide? Absolutely.”
Another high-profile part of the bill will require physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances. In the past, Florida has not required physicians to use the database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program. The goal of the database is to prevent addicts from visiting multiple doctors or pharmacies to get supplies of drugs.
Opioids have caused thousands of deaths in Florida in recent years. In 2016, for example, fentanyl caused 1,390 deaths, heroin caused 952 deaths, oxycodone caused 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths, according to a House staff analysis.
House Commerce Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican who sponsored the bill, described it as “another step to curbing this epidemic.”
“I grew passionate about this a couple of years ago because I just saw what it was doing,” Boyd said during the bill-signing event at the sheriff’s office. “There’s not a person in this room who doesn’t have a family member or a friend of a family that hasn’t been affected by this epidemic.”