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Health & Science

Lawmakers Pushing Efforts To Curb Opioid Overdoses

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Both prescription and illegal opioids are driving a national spike in overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control, they were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015. Florida has seen a dramatic increase in opioid-driven overdoses, up more than 20 percent.  Yet, lawmakers are still grappling with how to address the issue.

Between 2014 and 2015 the Centers for Disease Control reports opioid-related overdose deaths jumped 22 percent. The culprits: drugs like Heroin, Fentanyl, and oxycodone. Some are legal painkillers, prescribed by doctors. Others, like Heroin, are deadly and illegal.

“Drug overdose is an epidemic and we’re in a crisis,"says Rep. David Rommel. He's bringing a bill that would mandate EMT's and paramedics to report overdoses to the Florida Department of Health, which would compile a quarterly report.

The purpose is to create a central database that tracks where and when overdoses are occurring. Rommel says his measure will help state and local governments and healthcare organizations come up with short-term and long-term strategies.

“People are dying," Rommel says. "We have a responsibility to act now.”

He’s not the only one trying to find new ways to stop or slow drug abuse deaths. Rep. Larry Lee, D-Fort Pierce, wants hospitals to develop policies aimed at reducing re-admissions for unintentional drug overdoses by connecting their patients to substance abuse treatment programs.

“This is an attempt to change the course of the ship in terms of how we respond to the opioid crisis," says Rep. Cary Pigman, an emergency physician.

Meanwhile Rep. Nicholas Duran wants to shorten the length of time pharmacists and other dispensers have to report the dispensing of opioids to the prescription drug monitoring database. The state created the system in 2009 at the height of the pill mill epidemic. The goal is to crack down on doctor shopping. An amendment by Representative Cary Pigman would limit initial prescriptions for acute pain to a week, from the current 30 day supply some patients receive. Pigman says these prescriptions have often served as the gateway to addiction.

"Fifty-one percent of people who ultimately get treatment, started with a treatment for an acute pain syndrome.”

As states have cracked down on prescription drug abuse, Heroin and other illegal opioid abuses have increased. According to a state analysis in 2015, Florida ranked fourth in the nation with more than 3,200 deaths from opioid abuse. Heroin caused more than 730 deaths, fentanyl caused 705, oxycodone caused 565, and hydrocodone caused 236.