A dangerous consequence of Florida’s Eyeball Wars; throwing gasoline on the state’s wildfire opioid crisis


It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter.

Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars.

Few can argue the opioid problem has reached epic proportions. The Washington Post is reporting more than 200,000 deaths from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, nearly 600 people died from overdoses in Palm Beach County alone, says the Palm Beach Post.

By 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the legislature had begun actively cracking down on the state’s “pill mills,” helped by the Florida Prescription Drug Diversion and Abuse program, set up by the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, created during the 2012 Legislative Session.

In 2017, a group of state legislators, including Reps. Bob Rommel of Naples, Larry Lee of St. Lucie, Nick Duran of Miami-Dade, and Cary Pigman of Sebring have each filed legislation seeking innovative ways to combat Florida’s mounting opioid crisis.

Despite efforts to fix a problem in one area, Pigman may have open the door for another.

As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, the Avon Park Republican – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida.

Sponsored by Manny Diaz, HB 1037 is a bill that would allow optometrists, who are neither medical doctors nor educated in medical school, the ability to prescribe all manner of narcotics, except Schedule 1. The bill is being aggressively pushed by the Florida Optometric Association, which has assembled a team of a dozen lobbyists to promote HB 1037, including Michael Corcoran, brother of the House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Optometrists claim the expansion of services will allow them to perform intricate, “noninvasive” laser surgery. It has been an argument thoroughly debunked by the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association, which say optometrists do not have nearly the amount of training and expertise necessary to perform such delicate procedures.

There is no such thing as “noninvasive” eye surgery, they point out.

However, the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous.

If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

Such a resolution in the Eyeball Wars would be like throwing gasoline on the raging wildfire of Florida’s opioid crisis.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Concerned Patient

    April 14, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    While I do care about the lives of addicts, I also care about compassionate doctors and patients in pain…who need pain meds to get by. While it might be somewhat unusual for Optometrists to be able to prescribe opioids, I’m more concerned that now all of a sudden they WILL abuse their prescribing privileges. Where do you get that from?
    How do you know that ALL optometrists will be unscrupulous and careless, and money hungry with their prescribing? also, no offense, but if you’ve seen the actual Date, this ‘opiod crisis’ IS and HAS BEEN for YEARS…mainly heroin and street made Fentanyl..not PRESCRIBED opioid medicines. I think the author needs to understand true correlation and causation, keep up to date with the actual studies and statistics and not jump so quickly to conclusions.
    1) Florida’s pill mill issue has pretty much been resolved. As the pill mill doctors were not really ‘prescribing’ for patients, they were writing scripts for CASH, not taking care of patients.
    2) ALL of the actions taken to reduce and restrict prescribing AND the availability of opioid medicines only has hurt and continues to hurt pain PATIENTS, not addicts. The heavy monitoring, urine analysis, fear from doctors, limits, insurance quantity limits,pharmacies not filling prescriptions, DEA influence, CDC malfeasance, et al, has DESTROYED pain patients lives, yet the heroin use, and fentanyl use by addicts KEEPS GROWING.
    Seems like we need to ‘put two and two together’ and 1) stop blaming doctors, 2) stop blaming medicines ‘for causing addiction’, and 3) stop blaming patients who aren’t addicts and are not breaking any laws, and 4) LOOK AT ADDICTS AND THEIR DRUGS, as heroin and street fentanyl are NEVER PRESCRIBED.
    Even the faulty statistics that ‘most heroin users started with prescription opioids’ has been debunked, AND prescription opiods, that could have been bought off the street or stolen from a patient are not the same as “PRESCRIBED” opioid analgesics.
    Please look at the patients , who are doing everything they can to share their stories and look at the new data destroying these myths about ‘pills’.

  • Steve Ariens

    April 14, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Between 1999 and 2015 over EIGHT MILLION people died from the use/abuse of the two drugs Alcohol and Nicotine. In fact, currently those two drugs kill > 550,000 last year… with Alcohol deaths increased about 20% between 2015 and 2016 and passed 100,000 deaths for the first time. Why not the public outrage about all of those preventable deaths ?

    • janet goree

      April 16, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      @Steve Ariens is there a site I can reference those stats? Much appreciated!

Comments are closed.


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