Florida's Fight Against Prescription Overdoses

There is so much to love about Florida. We have beautiful beaches and the longest continuous coastline in the continental U.S. We have amazing diversity, with a population varied in age, ethnicity, and cultural background. Florida, including the Northwest Panhandle, offers so much to do, see, and love. However, Florida also tops some less-than-desirable lists.

For years, Florida has been known for an abundance of dangerous "pill mills" and a high rate of prescription overdoses. Thankfully, prevention efforts are beginning to pay off and save lives. We are heartened by this progress. When prescription overdoses stem from negligent prescribing or other dangerous practices, we help the victims and their families recover from the at-fault medical professionals.

Florida's Fight

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported on the sharp decline in Florida prescription overdoses since the state strengthened its laws and increased enforcement. Prior to the recent changes, the number of pain clinics in Florida had exploded. A whopping 98 of the top 100 doctors nationally who dispensed the largest amount of oxycodone from their offices in 2010 were in Florida. During the six years before the changes in Florida law, overdose deaths surged by greater than 60%.

In 2010, Florida began the process of making legal and regulatory changes to combat the overdose problem. Between making pain clinics register with the state and conducting raids on other clinics, the state focused on fighting the prescription problem. 250 pain clinics closed by 2013 and the 98 doctors referenced above were all gone by the same year. The Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") found the number of prescription drug overdose fatalities in Florida dropped by 23% between 2010 and 2012, with deaths due to oxycodone dropping by more than half in the same time period.

While some researchers say it is difficult to prove that the improved numbers are due to the changes, the timing is notable. According to the Times, other states have seen improvements but none are as dramatic as Florida's. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Florida's experience shows that policies and enforcement work. He notes, "This is an epidemic that was caused largely by inappropriate prescribing, and it can be fixed to a significant extent by improving prescribing."

The Prescription Overdose Problem

A CDC policy page focused on prescription painkillers notes that pain medicines are responsible for 3 of every 4 prescription drug overdoses. The meteoric rise in overdose fatalities parallels a 300% rise in the sale of prescription painkillers since 1999. In 2008, 14,800 people died from overdosing on these medications, more than died from cocaine and heroin combined.

More than 12 million Americans admitted to nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in 2010. Topping off these statistics is the fact that approximately 20% of medical professionals prescribe 80% of all prescription-level pain medicines,

Florida's experience proves that we can fight this epidemic. We hope this fight continues and Florida is one day known for having the fewest overdose deaths in the country. Even better, we hope the problem is eliminated entirely and medications are used only by those in need of treatment.

For now, prescription overdoses remain a problem. In some cases, these deaths can be traced back to a negligent medical practitioner. While most medical practitioners use their powers responsibly, prescribing medications on a true need basis and monitoring their use, some doctors and pharmacists hand out prescriptions much too easily.

Yes, people need to be accountable for their own behaviors, but patients also rely on medical experts for guidance. If an irresponsible prescribing led you or a loved one to overdose, you may have a personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice claim.

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