Accidental drug overdose is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year, many of which are in Florida.
In response to the deaths, legislators of all levels are working to put new regulations in place for prescription painkillers.
But at this point, the opioid epidemic in Florida is ever expanding, taking more lives and pushing the state toward even more of a crisis.
Not familiar with the scope of this epidemic? The numbers are shocking. Read on to learn some of the startling facts and figures shaping the opioid epidemic today.
1. The Opioid Epidemic in Florida is Ground Zero for the Rest of the Nation
When Purdue Pharma began to market OxyContin to doctors, it ensured that one of the most addictive substances ever discovered would be in the hands of patients. People of all ages needed treatment for sprained ankles and post-surgery treatment.
But what they didn’t realize, was that they were fueling an epidemic. The face of drug abuse would never be the same again.
Where in the past drug rings focused their efforts on cocaine and marijuana, the emergence of OxyContin created a new market. Narcotics sold like nothing ever before seen in history.
People who became addicted to painkillers would, over time, make a transition to using heroin. They would have to make the switch as their prescriptions became too expensive or if they lost access.
As the prescription painkiller market bloomed in Florida, El Chapo and other drug dealers began to plant poppies. Poppies are the source of heroin. They planted them in preparation for the coming opioid boom. They could see the writing on the walls long before it came into the mind of the mainstream public.
As more and more people drove down to South Florida’s pill clinics, they brought back thousands of pills with them. On each trip, they created more addicts around the country.
When the clinic bust finally came in 2011, the nation was full of opioid addicts looking to heroin for their next fix. But it wouldn’t be until legislators cracked down on the pill epidemic that the flow would open up fully. This gave the epidemic time to dreanch America’s suburbs with affordable opioids.
2. Opioid Prescriptions are Declining in the United States
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were just about seventy opioid prescriptions per 100 people in 2013. After that high, prescriptions began to taper off and declined seven percent by 2015.
These numbers continue to go down as more people realize the dangers of prescription painkillers. And as the government takes steps to educate doctors on better methods for treatment. But just because the number of prescriptions is going down, doesn’t mean the problem is under control.
With fewer pills on the market, their high prices drive gang violence. They also create a ready market for less expensive and more deadly opioid options like fentanyl.
3. HIV and Hepatitis C Rates Are Tied to Injection Drug Use
It may not be that shocking that HIV and Hepatitis C rates are rising along with IV drug use. But the numbers themselves are shocking. In the United States, nine percent of new HIV diagnoses can be traced back to injection drug use.
Of all those Americans living with HIV infections in the United States, around twenty percent are related to injection drug use. These numbers point to the fact that IV drug use is decreasing, but that it is still a major problem.
For Hepatitis C, of the 181,871, sixty-four percent were related to injection drug use. That makes IV drug use the leading cause of Hepatitis C in the United States.
4. Some Addicts Seeking Help in Florida Have to Drive 100 Miles a Day for Their Methadone
Methadone is a powerful tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic. But in the state of Florida, access to methadone is incredibly limited. Most patients have to travel to state-licensed clinics every day to get their fix for that twenty-four-hour period.
These clinics are the only place for treatment for many addicts. Many of them no longer have steady work or the insurance and money necessary to get help on their own.
You would think that as the crisis got worse, more clinics opened to treat the new patients. But unfortunately, lawsuits from special interest groups have prevented any real process from being made.
These special interest groups claim that there is an issue with establishing a methodology that everyone can agree on to decide where to open methadone clinics. Also up for debate is what kind of resources to provide there and what companies will be contracted for that purpose.
Since this criterion is hotly debated and tied closely to money, little progress has been made. One of the few criteria that has made it on the books is that people who live more than fifty miles from a clinic are considered to be facing a travel hardship.
That means that patients are expected to travel as much as one-hundred miles a day in order to receive this life-changing medicine. Even after new clinics are opened.
5. The Florida Department of Children and Family Services Has Failed to Produce Reports on the Need for New Clinics
Many people feel powerless in the battle against the opioid epidemic. But one of the organizations that has the most potential to help is the Department of Children and Family Services.
Unfortunately, in Florida, this licensing organization has failed to produce reports on the need for new clinics for at least four of the last ten years.
Without these reports, legislators have no information on how many addicts there are in their community. They can’t know where those addicts are living and how urgent their need is.
That makes it near impossible to open new clinics in locations that make sense for everyone. Fortunately, other state databases have come into play to make up for this lack of information.
6. Clinics Are Stopping up the Court System Preventing Progress
One of the reasons the Department of Children and Family Services has had difficulty opening new clinics for treatment is that areas where there is already one clinic, that clinic wants to prevent another clinic from opening near them. They claim it would cause them to have to become competitive in order to get new clients.
All in all, by 2017, only ten licenses had been granted since 2010 in the state of Florida. In that seven-year period, more than 23,700 people died in the state of Florida due to opioid overdose.
While the wheels of the justice system turned slowly to decide which clinics had the right to earn money off the opioid crisis, more and more Floridians were dying every day.
7. In 2017, Attempts Were Made to Open 49 Clinics, They Failed
Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in the state of Florida related to the opioid epidemic. Overnight the Department of Children and Family Services began to hand out licenses for clinics. All applicants had to do was fill out a one-page application and wait in line.
When doors opened, those first in line had their applications reviewed. The first three providers in line were able to secure all 49 clinic contracts.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for a new company to open one clinic at a time. Let alone trying to open up ten or more at the same time.
By concentrating the licenses among three companies, the clinics could take years to open. That is much longer than if each clinic opened with a different owner. The licensing process was unfair. It did little to open the clinics Floridians so desperately needed.
So once again the Department of Children and Family Services is starting over with new criteria. They want to lay the groundwork for healthy competition. They will begin to issue as many licenses as the market will bear, not some arbitrary number calculated by absent reports.
8. The Federal Government Has Made Grants Available to States to Increase Access to Care
The federal government has not remained silent in the face of the opioid epidemic. Various departments like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency continue to work to make funding available to states. They want to create the infrastructure necessary to respond to this crisis.
In 2017, under the Trump administration, grants became available through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis plan. Together these grants make a total of four hundred and eighty-five million dollars to the states. This money can be used to pay for prevention efforts and treatment and recovery services.
The funds were divided based on need with states with the highest overdose deaths getting the most funding. Seventeen states were awarded more than ten million dollars. That includes Florida, who accounted for twenty-seven million dollars worth of the funds. California and Texas are the only two states that received more funding.
States that didn’t have that bad of a problem received $2 million for their efforts. These states included Alaska, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. These are all states far away from the epicenter of the epidemic in Florida.
9. All First Responders in Florida Are Required to Carry Naloxone
Unlike alcohol addicts, one of the only ways to save an addict who is overdosing is by administering Naloxone. This life-saving medication is most often sold as a nasal spray. It can be administered by anyone including police officers, firefighters, friends, and family members.
To ensure this medication makes it out into the community, many localities have chosen to make Naloxone available without a prescription. That way friends and family members can be prepared in the case of an addict’s overdose. Unfortunately, Naloxone can do little for other side effects of opioid use.
10. In July of 2018, a New Florida Law Went Into Place Requiring Doctors to Access a Database Before Prescribing Pills
As one of the strongest efforts to prevent individuals from getting addicted to opioids in the first place. A new Florida law was put in place that forces doctors who prescribe opioids to check a state database for guidelines about treatment for acute pain.
To fulfill the requirements of the law, prescribers have to take a two-hour course every time they renew their license. This is so that they can be up to date with the latest happenings in the opioid crisis.
The new database will also provide guidance for the prescription of three or seven-day regimens of painkillers. This is to decrease the potential for long-term addiction in patients.
These hurdles are frustrating to many prescribers who believe they are acting in the best interests of their patients already. But putting these hoops in place and requiring paperwork is important not only for individual patients, but also for keeping records of the scale of the opioid crisis over time.
Within the database, doctors are able to find the prescribing history for their patients over the age of sixteen for all controlled substances. While the database has been around since 2009, this is the first time doctors will be required to use it.
Where to go to Get Clean
The opioid epidemic in Florida rages on. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get swept up in the tide. If you’ve noticed your prescription painkiller use increasing, then talk to your doctor about what other options might be available to you.
Unfortunately, many people lose control of their use before they are able to go for help. But it’s never too late to get clean and start living again. Contact us today to learn about your treatment options.