Increase in Opioid Use Affecting Florida
Although researchers have noted no significant increase in the amount of Americans who were suffering from chronic pain between 1999 and 2013, the annual number of prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers jumped by around 400 percent during that same period. The rise in painkiller prescriptions was not evenly distributed throughout the United States, and Florida was one of the states that experienced the largest increase.
Florida’s History in the Opioid Epidemic
In 2010, about 90 percent of the top opioid-prescribing doctors were located in Florida. Some of the state’s storefront pharmacy clinics (which were sometimes referred to as “pill mills”) sold thousands of painkiller pills each day. In 2011, Florida’s rate of painkiller prescriptions was more than 10 times higher than other state in the country, which prompted one county sheriff to remark that getting a prescription for opioids in Florida was about as easy as getting a cheeseburger at McDonald’s.
Thanks to a statewide management program, rates of prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers have decreased in Florida in recent years. The E-FORCSE (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation) Program, which created in 2009, is an electronic database that records each prescription that is written and documents who receives the medication. An initial 2.5 percent decrease in the annual number of painkiller prescriptions was described by experts as small but significant. More recently, according to the official reports, the state has seen an actual 1.4 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions, with most of that decrease coming from patients who still use the drugs in some amount.¹
In addition mandating the creation of E-FORCSE, the Florida state legislature also made it illegal for doctors who have the right to prescribe drugs from to also provide these medications at the same location. This law has been credited with reducing illicit access to prescription painkillers throughout the state and contributing to a statewide decrease in the annual number of deaths that are attributed to prescription opioid overdose.
Opioid Use Crisis Spurs Florida into Heroin Addiction
Unfortunately, the successful effort to shut down Florida’s pill mills might have also led to increased abuse of heroin in the state. As it has become increasingly more difficult to acquire prescription painkillers in recent years, many individuals who had been abusing or had become addicted to prescription opioids have turned to heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative.
From 2010 to 2014, as illicit access to prescription opioids was decreasing in Florida, the annual number of heroin overdose deaths increased by almost 900 percent. Another sign that the opioid abuse problem remains significant in Florida is the increased use of naloxone, a medication that can reverse the potentially fatal effects of opioid overdose. In 2013, ambulance crews in one part of Florida reported using naloxone 325 times. In the following two years, the same first responders administered Naloxone more than 2,000 times.²
Adding to the problem is that fentanyl, an extremely potent drug similar to oxycodone, began to be frequently mixed with heroin in recent years as well. This has contributed to the increasing rates of addiction and overdose deaths among former prescription drug abusers who have turned to heroin.
As a result of these developments, many Florida residents who never imagined that they would abuse a drug developed an addiction to opioids through their use of prescription painkillers, and as those medications become more difficult to get, they began abusing heroin.
Twelve Oaks Recovery Center has remained dedicated to patient-centered treatment for opioid use disorder and other addictions for more than 30 years. Treatment options for individuals who are receiving care for opioid addiction at Twelve Oaks include addiction-free chronic pain management, treatment for addiction and co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a faith-based treatment track. All care at Twelve Oaks is customized according to the individual’s specific needs.
- Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland. “Effect of Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and Pill Mill Laws on Opioid Prescribing Use.” Retrieved online 5/9/16 at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26280092.
- The New England Journal of Medicine. “Relationship between Nonmedical Prescription-Opioid Use and Heroin Use.” Found online 5/9/16 at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1508490?rss=searchAndBrowse&.