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Gary Mendell: Life-saving measure passes Florida Legislature to combat drug overdoses

Florida lawmakers passed a life-saving measure which now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. The newly passed legislation will drastically diminish a tragic and far-too-common occurrence – death resulting from a drug overdose. This public health crisis has, up until now, burdened the citizens and communities of Florida. My organization, Shatterproof, would like to applaud this momentous achievement and urge Florida’s continued progress toward policies aimed at mitigating addiction. Thousands of lives will be saved next year because of these hard-fought efforts, and hopefully, with time, overdose deaths in Florida will cease to exist entirely.

With the approval of Senate Bill 758/House Bill 751 – also known as the Emergency Treatment for Opioid Overdose Act – Florida lawmakers approved expanded access to the overdose-reversal medicine called naloxone. This much-needed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, and Reps. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, and Doc Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, will hopefully go a long way toward alleviating Florida’s daunting overdose death rate, which right now is eleventh-highest in the country. As a harrowing reminder of how rampant addiction had become, absent adequate policies to address the rising trend, Florida’s overdose death rate doubled since 1999.

Intervention at the statewide level to combat and reverse this trend was long overdue; thankfully, we have taken a step in the right direction with passage of this law. Our next steps must and should entail educating our citizens and communities about this new policy – doing so will guarantee the law’s widespread and comprehensive implementation, which will, in turn, ensure the greatest number of lives saved.

The critically important provisions the bill contains will permit all first responders to possess, store and administer naloxone. Additionally, it allows a person acting under “standing order” to store the medication under the guidance of a healthcare professional who is authorized to prescribe the opioid antagonist. According to the Centers for Disease Control, programs dispensing naloxone have saved 10,000 lives across America. Twenty-six states and, now, Florida, have passed laws enabling third parties, including close family members of a chronic relapse victim, to store or administer the medication. I hope this number will continue to rise as more states adopt similar policies.

With similar measures failing during last year’s legislative session, and with many pressing issues to deal with during a compact session this year, Florida lawmakers could have put this legislation on the backburner. But those elected leaders who knew lives were hanging in the balance put partisan politics aside, made their voices heard and brought this issue to the forefront – and thankfully, their colleagues listened to them.

A decade and a half ago, no state had laws that made it easy for medical professionals to prescribe and for third-parties to administer naloxone without fear of legal repercussions. Today, more than half of the states have both of these measures. Many state legislatures passed them with unanimous, bipartisan support.

The unity such as Florida demonstrated this year provides an example of a state doing it right as we combat addiction in other states and put a dent in the disease that has taken the lives of far too many of our loved ones.

Gary Mendell is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, the first national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease. Mr. Mendell founded Shatterproof to honor his son, Brian, who lost his battle with addiction in 2011. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

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