Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2018
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Co.


Florida needs to take advantage of every opportunity to bring
awareness and resources to the deadly opioid epidemic that is ravaging
communities across the state. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
comes to Tampa today to discuss federal efforts to combat the crisis,
but if he sticks to his script of late he will focus on enforcement
and punishment instead of where the attention really needs to be:
rehabilitation. Without a meaningful commitment at all levels of
government to treating addiction, this crisis will continue claiming

In speeches over the last week, Sessions has vowed a surge by the Drug
Enforcement Administration in targeting pharmacies and prescribers
that dispense unusually high amounts of drugs. Using data from drug
manufacturers, Sessions has said DEA analysts will look for patterns
that lead them to lawbreakers. Penalizing suppliers -- not users -- is
a smart way to apply law enforcement muscle. But it doesn't deal with
addiction, which is what continually fuels demand for the drugs.

The scourge began with pharmaceutical companies pushing powerful,
highly addictive opioid drugs to treat all kinds of pain. But taken
beyond the prescribed amount, the drugs can also produce a high.
Addicted patients and recreational users soon turned to pill mills
that provided hundreds of pills with few questions asked. An
appropriate state crackdown led by Attorney General Pam Bondi closed
most of Florida's pill mills, but that gave rise to a new demand for
street drugs such as heroin. The epidemic now encompasses all forms of
opioids, creating an unprecedented public health crisis that kills 14
people a day in Florida. Treating addiction is the only way to contain

Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed budget, is seeking $53 million to
fight the epidemic -- $27 million of which would come from federal
grants. The money would fund drug treatment, law enforcement efforts
and help local fire departments acquire the overdose-reversal drug
Narcan. It's a decent start, but it's not enough from a governor who
made substance abuse treatment a low priority for too long. State Sen.
Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is asking for an additional $25
million just for treatment, which is likely a long shot but adds some
perspective regarding the scale of this problem.

Scott is also backing legislation that limits prescriptions for
narcotics to a three-day supply, with some exceptions to allow doctors
to prescribe seven days' worth. That's still too restrictive for the
many responsible patients who need opioids for legitimate pain, and
requiring a doctor's visit several times a month to renew a
prescription would burden low-income people, the very ill and those
with mobility issues. Lawmakers should listen to medical experts and
fine-tune that proposal. The bill also gives broader authority to the
state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, enabling the sharing of
data with other states, and requires doctors to check the database
before writing prescriptions as well as undergo extra education. Those
are smart measures that should be enacted.

Sessions' stop in Tampa is an important moment to bring renewed
attention to a crisis that cannot be ignored. But enforcement actions
by the DEA will amount to nothing more than another failed push in the
nation's long drug war if not enough is done to help addicts get
treatment and quit for good. State leaders should be ready to find
more money to help meet that dire need.
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