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.