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Florida opioid deaths down more than 10 percent in 2018

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

Opioid-related deaths declined 10 percent statewide in 2018, more than 600 fewer deaths than the previous year, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Office.

“While the decline in opioid-related deaths is encouraging, we will not take our foot off the gas,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “My office is fighting the opioid crisis on multiple fronts – on the streets busting drug traffickers to the courtroom holding major opioid distributors, manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies responsible for their roles in this crisis.”

Moody met with the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse Friday at St. Leo University to discuss the Florida Medical Examiners’ annual 2018 report, which was released in August.

“This Task Force is another key component of this monumental struggle to end opioid abuse and save lives, and we will continue to tirelessly pursue new measures to help bolster our ongoing efforts to end this crisis ravaging our state,” Moody said.

According to the annual analysis, Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners 2018 Annual Report, total drug-related deaths decreased by 3 percent – 359 fewer – statewide last year with 5,576 “opioid-related deaths reported, 602 less than in 2017, more than a 10 percent decline.

The report states there were 3,727 “opioid-caused” deaths in 2018, 553 less or 13 percent fewer than what was reported in 2017.

The drugs that caused the most deaths in Florida in 2018 were fentanyl (2,348), cocaine (1,644), benzodiazepines (1,136, including 664 alprazolam deaths), morphine (1,102), fentanyl analogs (874), ethyl alcohol (866), and heroin (806). Fentanyl (87 percent), heroin (86 percent), fentanyl analogs (83 percent), morphine (59 percent), methamphetamine (59 percent), cocaine (58 percent), and methadone (57 percent) were listed as causing death in more than 50 percent of the deaths in which these drugs were found.

The primary outlier in overall drug-related declines was fentanyl. Fentanyl-related and caused deaths increased by 29.5 percent (615 more) and deaths caused by fentanyl increased by 35 percent (605 more).

The 21-member task force, which met for the first time in October, was created by Gov. Ron DeSantis via executive order earlier this year and named Moody as chair.

The panel is developing a statewide strategy to identify best practices to combat the opioid epidemic through education, law enforcement efforts, treatment, prevention, and recovery. It will present its findings to DeSantis, Senate President Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, in 2020.

In May 2017, then-Gov. Rick Scott declared opioid abuse a crisis in Florida after the state’s Department of Health (DOH) reported heroin caused 952 deaths, fentanyl 1,390 deaths, oxycodone 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths in 2016.

In March 2018, Scott approved a $65 million package of laws that limited opioid prescriptions to no more than seven days and made it mandatory for doctors to check a database – the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program [PDMP] – to verify a patient’s history before writing a script for any controlled substance.

Also approved in 2018:

  • $14.6 million for residential treatment beds, outpatient treatment and case management, emergency room treatment and follow up, peer recovery support services and targeted outreach for pregnant women with substance abuse disorders.
  • $27 million in federal funding from the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant.
  • $16.5 million for the DCF and Department of Corrections (DOC) to treat opioid addiction.

Among 2019 bills adopted by Florida lawmakers to augment the state’s 2018 initiatives is a needle-exchange program.

In May, First Lady Casey DeSantis launched the “Hope for Healing Florida” initiative as a “multi-agency mental health and substance abuse campaign to coordinate the combined efforts and resources of DCF, DOH, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Florida Department of Education to better serve the needs of Floridians struggling with mental health and substance abuse.”

To date, at least 14 opioid-related bills have been filed by lawmakers for the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14. Among them:

SB 704, filed by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg would create, among other things, the “First Episode Psychosis Program,” an “evidence-based program for individuals between 14 and 30 years of age who are experiencing early indications of serious mental illness, especially a first episode of psychotic symptoms.”

HB 4297, sponsored by Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-Saint Cloud, would allocate $389,400 for a proposed “Change Everything Initiative,” a “Florida Opioid Crisis Pilot Project.”

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