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Elder Advocate: Safeguards Needed To Prevent Opiod Abuse

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The prescription drug abuse problem has spread to nearly every corner of society in Florida. In 2014, 2,062 Floridians died from prescription drug overdose — a 7.6 percent increase from 2013.

People who are victims of drug abuse cannot be categorized into a particular socio-economic class or region, but are found in every segment of the population. Recently, addiction rehabilitation treatment centers throughout South Florida have noticed a rise in the number of seniors being treated for opioid addiction.

Our elected officials must take more action to address this horrible trend.

Some of the most commonly abused medications are prescription opioids, which provide necessary relief to people with chronic pain or to those who are recovering from a serious operation. Some patients who are given prescriptions begin to abuse these medications by snorting, smoking or injecting them in order to get an intense high.

When the prescription runs out or the abuser is no longer able to acquire the pills, drug abuse victims often turn to heroin to experience a similar high. This story has become all too familiar, and addiction to prescription opioids must be treated like any other serious medical condition, rather than as a problem for the criminal justice system to handle.

Fortunately, there is a tool that can help to break this cycle of prescription opioid abuse.

Opioids with abuse-deterrent properties (OADPs) are prescription painkillers that would prevent many people from abusing medications. They are pills that are very hard to crush or melt, so potential abusers cannot tamper with them by snorting, smoking, or injecting them.

They have been proven to slash abuse rates and could help to lower the number people addicted to prescription opioids. This new technology has the potential to make a serious impact on this problem in Florida and could save many lives if they are made available to patients.

In response to the prescription drug abuse crisis in Florida, the state has enacted many different programs and policies to address it. Over the past five years, Florida has taken steps to shut down pill mills, bolster its prescription drug monitoring program, and increase access to the drug overdose reversal medication, Naloxone.

These combinations of programs have been proven to save countless lives and lower the rate of overdose deaths across the state. Despite this progress, more and more continue to fall victim to prescription drug abuse, but enacting legislation to make opioids with abuse-deterrent properties available is a simple and logical step to combat it in Florida. OADP should be added to the comprehensive approach to combat this serious issue.

In the past, I have highlighted the fact that the Baby Boomer generation has an increasing problem with prescription drug abuse. It will only continue to grow unless we face the problem head on and enact smart policy solutions to address it. Drug abuse can no longer be a taboo subject, but something that is brought to the forefront of discussion in Florida.  The cost of abuse and addiction to seniors to far too high, and we must use every available tool to fight against it.

We need Florida lawmakers to take the lead against prescription opioid abuse and add OADP as part of its approach. Our lawmakers have shown in the past few years that they are very committed combatting the drug abuse problem and I ask that they continue to make it a priority this year by adopting OADP in 2016.

Austin R. Curry is Executive Director of Elder Care Advocacy of Florida