The Florida Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse soon will present Gov. Ron DeSantis and lawmakers with strategies to combat opioid addiction, perhaps before the legislative session concludes March 13.
The 21-member task force was created by DeSantis to develop a comprehensive statewide plan in addressing the state’s opioid crisis, which kills an estimated 15 Floridians daily. It has met five times since October.
In its final meeting Monday at Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, the panel previewed some of its proposals for its chairwoman, state Attorney General Ashley Moody, and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
Among the initiatives were suggestions forwarded by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, the task force’s vice chairman, to increase penalties for illegally selling drugs near rehabilitation centers, adjusting codeine mixtures to the same classification as cocaine or morphine and providing probation officers and others with the overdose prevention drug NARCAN.
Right now, only health-care providers and law enforcement officers can possess and administer NARCAN.
“The more who have hands on it, the better we will be,” Lemma said.
Among other proposals are tools in building coalitions to raise awareness and promote prevention, a new predictive analytics program that can identify individuals with a high risk of addiction and a prevention initiative to provide opioid abuse information and addiction resources for pregnant women.
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 caused 1,390 deaths, oxycodone caused 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 prescription for any controlled substance.
The creation of the PDMP is among the factors cited in a two-year decline in opioid overdose rates.
According to the Florida Medical Examiners Office’s annual analysis, Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners 2018 Annual Report, total drug-related deaths decreased by 3 percent statewide in 2018, with 5,576 opioid-related deaths reported – 602 fewer than in 2017, more than a 10-percent decline.
The report, released last July, stated there were 3,727 opioid-caused deaths in 2018 – 553 fewer, or 13 percent, than what was reported in 2017.
The primary outlier was fentanyl. Fentanyl-related and fentanyl-caused deaths increased by 29.5 percent (615 more), and deaths caused by fentanyl increased by 35 percent (605 more).
Fentanyl was responsible for 65 of 110 fatal overdoses reported during the first six months of 2019 by the District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office, which serves Manatee and Sarasota counties, where drug-related deaths spiked last year. There were 151 deaths in 2018, and 260 deaths in 2017.
Buchanan installed sanctions against Chinese fentanyl manufacturers into the National Defense Authorization bill signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.
“For too long, fentanyl and other opioids have wreaked havoc on communities in Florida and across the country,” Buchanan said. “We need to continue our efforts to fight opioids.”
Moody said the fight also continues in the courts, referring to the state’s 2018 lawsuit against 10 drug makers, including Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and CVS and Walgreens, seeking to recoup millions of dollars the state has spent combatting the opioid epidemic.
“This is a fight on all fronts,” Moody said. “We are fighting in the court system, going against large corporations, who sought to profit on others’ addiction.”
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