New Fla. Bill Limits Opioid Prescriptions to Curb Epidemic
March 10—With thousands of Floridians dying from opioid overdoses every year, state lawmakers took a step Friday to crack down on prescription pain pill abuse by curtailing the amount of pills doctors can prescribe.
The Legislature passed one of Gov. Rick Scott's top priorities and sent the bill to his desk to sign.
Patients with acute pain would be limited to a three-day supply of prescription opioids, or a seven-day supply if a doctor deems it "medically necessary."
Florida medical examiners reported 5,725 opioid-related deaths in 2016, a 35 percent increase from the year before.
There were 211 deaths in the Sarasota-Manatee area in 2016 in which oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone or morphine—the drugs found in the most common prescription pain pills—were present in the person's body.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican who sponsored the opioid bill in the House, said Friday that the bill will "help fight this horrible epidemic."
"I think we've come to a very good landing spot that will get the people in our communities the help they need," Boyd said.
Some doctors have complained about the new limits, especially surgeons who perform complex procedures that can leave patients in significant pain.
Palm Beach County hand surgeon Dr. Bradon Luskin told a Senate committee in January that even a seven-day supply of opioids often might not be enough for patients who have just undergone major surgery.
"It's just not reasonable for somebody who's incapacitated to have to come back every three to seven days," Luskin said.
But Florida is following a number of other states and private health care companies in setting limits on pain pill prescriptions. CVS recently became the first national retailer to limit opioid prescriptions for certain conditions to a seven-day supply.
The prescription limits apply only to patients experiencing acute pain, such as pain caused by a surgery or traumatic injury. Chronic-pain patients are not covered in the bill and can still receive larger supplies of pills.
Florida lawmakers are trying to address a problem that has vexed communities across the state.
While deadly street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl have become a major problem, many opioid overdose deaths still are attributed to prescription pain pills in Florida.
The Legislature has tried to rein in pain pill abuse in the past, largely through the use of a database that tracks prescriptions in an attempt to identify patients engaged in doctor shopping and unscrupulous physicians who prescribe excessive amount of pills.
The opioid bill approved Friday seeks to enhance the use of Florida's prescription monitoring database, or PDMP. Currently nine states require physicians to check the state's PDMP every time they prescribe a controlled substance. Another 12 states require doctors to check the PDMP when they first prescribe a controlled substance to a patient.
Florida has no requirement that doctors check the PDMP and many aren't even registered to use it. That will change under the new legislation, which makes it mandatory for "a prescriber or dispenser" to check the PDMP and review a patient's prescription history before issuing a prescription for a controlled substance.
In addition to the new regulations, lawmakers are dedicating $53 million in additional funding this year for opioid abuse treatment and prevention.