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Sandi Frear: Why abuse-deterring opioids must be a priority this legislative session

Florida legislators created a prescription drug program in 2009 to monitor controlled substances, which has helped reduce the number of Floridians who suffer from prescription drug addiction. Medications provide great benefit to patients when used correctly and under the guidance of their treating physician. Some opioid drugs, though, are crushed into powder or injected by addicts to get high, causing numerous deaths and rising healthcare costs each year.

Although Florida has made great strides in dealing with the problem, more needs doing to limit the abuse of prescription drugs. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Jeanette Nunez have introduced legislation — SB 728 and HB 1021 — requiring health insurers in Florida to cover the new abuse-deterring opioids. The bills make sense to me by ensuring Floridians receive the medication they need while reducing abuse.

I live with numerous autoimmune conditions that require multiple medications on a daily basis, some to manage the terrible pain I experience. My treatment plan includes seeing my physicians regularly, taking my medications, and a combination of exercise, massage therapy, physical therapy and getting enough rest. My treating physicians know if I need pain medications or other treatments and have the knowledge to prescribe my pain medicines when needed.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved new pain medications, some with new technology that makes it harder to alter the drugs while still getting the same benefit. Those new medications include extended-release formulas and technologies that make the drug inactive if crushed or injected. Such drugs are designed to stop working if crushed, chewed or physically altered in any way. Extended-release pain medications deliver the medicine through the patient’s body slowly, which allows consistent levels of medication to stay in the patient’s system. Unfortunately, those two safeguards alone won’t end this growing problem.

Prescription drug abuse has led to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths during the past 15 years. In 2012, nearly 2.1 million Americans suffered from substance abuse problems related to opioid pain relievers. We must encourage further development of the medications to help reduce the number of overdose deaths in Florida and across the nation. We certainly hope that Florida’s lawmakers will support current legislation making the new medicines more available.

The newly developed medications are not the only answer to the problem, but they are a major step in the right direction. The legislation will make it easier for physicians to prescribe abuse-deterring medications and will limit the risk of addiction in patients who legitimately need the medications. As a patient and leader of a patient advocacy organization, I urge Florida legislators to support SB 728 and HB 1021 and encourage its passage to a law.

Sandi Frear is vice president of Lupus and Allied Diseases Association Inc.

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