Florida Coalitions in Action Make National News!

Florida Coalitions Have a Prescription for RX Abuse

Florida is on its way to shedding its notorious title of “the Oxy Express” when the governor, with coalition support, signed last month into effect a bill that cracks down on clinics that frivolously dispense pain medication, feeding a statewide and nationwide RX abuse epidemic.

While reducing use rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana remains the coalition’s focus, the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention Pasco County (ASAP) couldn’t ignore the fact that an estimated seven Floridians die every day from prescription drug abuse. And their county has seen an exponential increase in the number of babies born to mothers who abuse prescription drugs.

One of the coalition’s supporters, Sen. Mike Fasano, a staunch advocate of a prescription drug monitoring database, was able to persuade the governor to preserve and improve their recently passed RX monitoring database.

The bill tightens reporting requirements to the database from 15 days to seven days, a change critics said the program needed to make it more effective.

The measure also increases penalties for overprescribing Oxycodone and other narcotics, tracks wholesale distribution of some controlled substances, and provides $3 million to support law enforcement efforts and state prosecutors. It also bans most doctors who prescribe narcotics from dispensing them, requiring prescriptions to be filled at certain types of pharmacies.

In Pasco County, Chrissie Parris, ASAP’s Coordinator, is seeing that for adults in treatment, prescription drugs are the No. 1 drugs of choice and for youth, they are no. 2, behind marijuana. The coalition partnered with their sheriff’s office on take back events, provided information on how to report a suspected pill mill, and established a permanent prescription drug drop box at their police station. They are also working with primary care physicians on a campaign to cross train them on identifying problematic prescriptions and they have a pain management doctor in their coalition. Just last month, more than 125 physicians from all over the country descended on Capitol Hill to demand legislative assistance in the battle against prescription drug addiction, calling for better training to reduce inappropriate prescriptions.

“Rx abuse has helped the coalition build capacity…I receive weekly emails from people who want to help,” Parris said. Many of these people have been referred to them by local politicians and Sen. Fasano’s office. 

The United Way of Broward County Commission on Substance Abuse in Fort Lauderdale has had Rx abuse on their radar for almost a decade. When it became apparent that most of the pill mills and “doc shopping” was occurring in Broward County, they began collaborating with Parris’ coalition and coalitions and other advocates throughout the state eliminate or restrict these businesses. Broward County had become the nation’s pill-mill capital, with 130 pain clinics in operation. In Broward alone, more than one million oxycodone tablets are prescribed every month. Broward commissioners recently approved an ordinance with strict rules on zoning, hours of operation and business practices of pain management clinics. They also prohibit the clinics from operating within 1,200 feet of another pain management clinic, place of worship, child care center or educational center.

Pat Castillo, the commission’s Vice-President, said, “We started advocating for a prescription drug monitoring program and as the years kept going forward and we saw that needle going up and up on the drug trends report we knew that we needed to do more at the state level, than just at the coalition level.”

After seven years of advocacy, the commission got a prescription drug monitoring program passed in 2009, but when the governor’s proposed a repeal in his budget, the coalition mobilized again to help secure an even better bill.

“I think we absolutely contributed to the governor’s turn, or some of us like to say ‘epiphany.’ We really came together, along with our coalitions and partners in all parts of the state, to get the message out there,” Castillo said. “I think it was all of those efforts together to make that change happen.”

With the law going to take effect in October, like the Pasco County coalition, Broward County’s commission is now educating physicians who input data into the PDMP. Castillo and Parris know that there is still so much work to be done around Rx abuse in their communities and in their state, but have learned through this process that long-term change starts and ends at the local level.

“We don’t want to be known as “the Oxy Express,” and it’s not something we’re proud of, but we are certainly proud of our community’s response and we want to be known as one of the coalitions that made a change,” concluded Castillo.