Some States are Changing Drug Laws—Will This Help?
In light of the opioid epidemic that the United States has been struggling with for nigh on twenty years, an epidemic that was caused by legal and supposedly safe and helpful pharmaceuticals, it comes as no surprise that many states are beginning to change their laws on prescription drugs, particularly on prescription opioid pain reliever drugs. Take Florida for example. In Florida, new laws drafted three years ago are now being pushed through that regulate the amount of opioid-based painkillers that can be prescribed from doctor’s offices and hospitals.
In 2014, of the one-hundred top doctors offices across the country for numbers of opioid prescriptions written, ninety of those doctors offices were located in Florida. This is pretty suspicious that nine-tenths of the top prescribing doctors for opioid painkillers were located in one state, an opioid abuse capital of the country and an overdose capital as well.
Finally, Florida State government decided to put its foot down and set limits on how many prescriptions could be written by doctors and filled by pharmacies. One year later, Florida saw a drop of 1.4 percent in prescriptions written for opioid pharmaceuticals and a 2.5 percent drop in opioid prescriptions filled. Perhaps best of all, opioid overdose deaths also decreased slightly during that time.
Florida Sets a Precedent
While these changes do not seem like much, the fact that one law passed in Florida literally reversed the trend of overdose deaths and prescribing numbers in Florida does make a big difference. One law took a rapidly escalating statistic, slowed it, stopped it, then turned it around into a very slight decrease. As this law catches on and is enforced better, it is likely the results will be even more pronounced.
One expert spoke out on Florida’s law, its efficacy, and the need to apply it and other strategies like it to the rest of the country. From Dr. Caleb Alexander, a co-director of the John Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness in Baltimore, Maryland:
“There are no magic bullets when it comes to the opioid epidemic. The problem is huge. America is just 5 percent of the world’s population, but we consume 80 percent of all opioids, and more Americans have died from opioid abuse than double the number who died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam combined. But these types of policies and programs are one of the main tools states have to combat the problem. So it’s very important that we evaluate their impact. And I do think these reductions are clinically important. Because even just a 2 percent reduction in opioid volume translates into hundreds of thousands of fewer pills dispensed per month.”
The words of the doctor could not be truer and more relevant today. Any activity that reduces a drug problem is a laudable activity. Florida set a precedent by actually restricting the number of prescriptions that doctors could write for opioid pain relievers and the numbers of prescriptions that pharmacies could fill for such drugs. This forced doctors to prioritize who really needed painkillers, and who could do just as well with over the counter remedies. Furthermore, the law prevented pharmacies from becoming “pill mills,” i.e. places where anyone could go to get drugs if they wanted to.
Every state can take a page out of Florida’s book. As we move forward in our efforts to combat the opioid problem, any strategy that is an effective strategy is deemed helpful and worthwhile, and Florida’s 2015 law certainly helped reduce opioid, pharmaceutical addiction in that state.