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PhRMA backs Rick Scott plan to combat opioid epidemic

Gov. Rick Scott and other elected officials said this week they would look to combat the opioid epidemic plaguing Florida by limiting first-time pain pill prescriptions to a three day supply, and Wednesday the CEO of a major drug manufacturer trade group said he was on board with a similar plan.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) CEO Stephen J. Ubl said Wednesday the group supports limiting first-time prescriptions drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin at a week’s supply.

Scott’s plan, announced Tuesday, would also pump $50 million into drug treatment programs. Lawmakers are expected to debate the proposal during the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

“We are taking this step because we believe the worsening opioid epidemic demands additional solutions, with new protections for patients. Too often, individuals receive a 30-day supply of opioid medicines for minor treatments or short-term pain. Overprescribing and dispensing can lead to patients taking opioids longer than necessary or to excess pills falling into the wrong hands,” Ubl said.

Ubl’s comments weren’t a direct response to Scott’s proposal, but came out at a meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction, which is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and includes Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi among its membership.

“Appropriate script limits, when combined with improved prescriber education and better coverage of treatment alternatives, can help ensure proper prescribing and reduce the risk of abuse. Given the scope and scale of this crisis, we believe this is the right thing to do,” he added.

Ubl is correct: The ‘scope and scale’ of the epidemic warrants action from the entire chain of custody of prescription pain medication, from the groups PhRMA represents to the doctors prescribing powerful medication for short-term problems.

In 2015 alone opioids were blamed for more than 3,900 deaths in Florida, that’s more than 10 a day and a sharp increase from the peak of the “pill mill” crisis of a few years ago.

Patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction have also climbed dramatically. Aspire, the mental health and substance abuse contractor in Orange County, said such cases have more than doubled in two years.

Despite their danger if abused, opioids do have legitimate medical purpose, and a strict limit could leave some patients struggling with severe pain.

PhRMA’s compromise is a carve out in the rule for those in hospice care, patients fighting cancer or other chronic diseases, as well as medication assisted treatments for patients seeking long-term addiction recovery so long as they also receive counseling and mental health support.

Ubl said PhRMA also knows that a limit on prescriptions will only go so far, which is why the group is working with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the research and development of new non-opioid, non-addictive pain medicines that can help patients who need a long term solution.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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