Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Jim Boyd, both Republicans representing southwest Florida, will file bills today to combat opioid abuse in the Sunshine State by limiting first-time painkiller prescriptions to a three-day supply.
The proposal mirrors one Gov. Rick Scott made earlier this year and is also similar to a proposal backed by a drug manufacturers trade group that would limit new scripts to a week-long supply.
“Now is the moment we have to take strong action,” Benacquisto said. “The opioid epidemic continues to cause pain and death in our communities every day. I am proud to work with Gov. Scott and Rep. Boyd as part of the solution to the terrible problem that plagues so many individuals and families across the state of Florida.
“We will work hard to pass a bill that truly helps stem the tide of addiction to opiates, helps folks move towards recovery, and provides new helpful tools for doctors when prescribing these drugs.”
Benacquisto’s legislative roll-out is accompanied by a video that opens with a mother, Elizabeth Pine, describing her now-deceased son, who was prescribed 300 milligrams of oxycontin for an injury.
“It seemed like a lot for such a simple injury, but that’s what they gave him,” Pine said. “Then he got addicted to that. Those little pills got expensive, so he turned to heroin.”
Her story mirrors those of thousands of other parents whose sons and daughters have fallen victim to what public health officials call the opioid epidemic: A small injury is met with a quick fix, leading to a costly addiction and a deadly end.
“He had a job, he had a career, he was happy, he had a life – he had things – he had a life. The drugs stole his life,” Pine said of her son.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 142 Americans die from opioid abuse daily, and the most recent full-year report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiners Commission found that opioids – both prescribed and illicit – were the direct cause of 3,781 deaths in 2015.
That number continues to grow, too, with FDLE’s 2016 interim report showing sharp increases in opioid-related deaths in the first half of last year. The same report shows fentanyl, the opioid that became a household name after it killed singer Michael Jackson, was the No. 1 deadliest drug in Florida during the first half of last year.
Fentanyl and its analogues caused 853 deaths during that time span, more than double that of alcohol, which placed behind not only fentanyl, but cocaine, morphine and heroin as well.
Following Pine in the video is Charles Johnson, who works as the emergency department medical social worker at Lee Health.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are giving – given – pain medicine, including opioids and synthetic opioids during the acute phase of an illness,” he said. “But for long-term use it’s not that effective, and what it’s creating is people who have become addicted.”
Those addicted to opioids are not only hurting themselves, but others through an increased propensity to turn to crime as a way to fund their habits, according to Carmine Marceno, undersheriff at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Pine, Johnson and Marceno all gave Benacquisto’s bill their approval in the video, followed by a title card reading, “It’s time to limit prescription opioids.”
The Senate plans to release several more videos on the issue, which will include additional members of the Senate, more testimonials and cover additional impacts the crisis is having on individuals, families and communities.
“As a human being, you cannot hear what’s going on and the pleas for help and stand on the sidelines,” Benacquisto said in the video.