How Florida Cracked Down on Opioid Prescription Drugs

by | August 21, 2015

By Carol Rosenberg and Joan Chrissos

A new study says Florida's crackdown on pill mills has resulted in "modest decreases" in the use of opioid prescription drugs such as Vicodin and oxycodone.

The study was published online this week by the JAMA Internal Medicine, formerly known as the Archives of Internal Medicine. It compared prescription painkiller data in Florida and Georgia from July 2010 to September 2012.

In 2010, Florida passed a tougher law regulating pain-management clinics. Under the new legislation, which went into effect July 1, 2011, clinics had to be registered with the state and doctors could no longer dispense opioid prescription painkillers from their offices. Before the law, doctors in storefront clinics routinely sold drugs to walk-in patients carrying cash.

Also in 2011, the state implemented the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to provide health care professionals a better look at patients' prescription-drug histories.

One of the study's authors, Lainie Rutkow, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told WLRN Radio News that the data showed a promising drop after the state law went into effect.

"The declines that we saw were equal to something in the range of 500,000 5mg tabs of Vicodin per month," Rutkow told WLRN. "So that's a lot of pills. And from a policy perspective, understanding that in the first year, we are seeing a declining trend that can be attributed to these laws certainly points the way toward future research to see what happened then in years two, three and four."

Rutkow and his team of researchers reviewed approximately 480 million prescriptions written in Florida and Georgia from July 2010 to September 2012. Of those, 7.7 percent _ or approximately 37 million prescriptions _ were for opioid prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and oxycodone. The study's database consisted of 2.6 million patients, 431,890 prescribers and 2,829 pharmacies in Florida and Georgia.

A year after the law went into effect, researchers found the number of opioid prescriptions written in Florida decreased 1.4 percent.

The use of opioid prescription painkillers has become a major public health concern, medical experts say. In 2012, U.S. health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, enough for every American to have a bottle of pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overuse of the drugs can be deadly; each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the United States, according to a July 2014 report from the CDC. And, the CDC notes, opioid drug-poisoning deaths have nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2012, going from 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people to 5.1 deaths in 2012.

Before the legislation, South Florida was the epicenter of a nationwide black market in prescription painkillers. In 2010, before the new state law went into effect, Florida doctors sold almost 46 million oxycodone tablets. In 2011, that number had dropped by 97 percent _ to 1.2 million pills.

(WLRN Radio News reporter Christine DiMattei contributed to this report.)

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