Is Florida Failing Its Own Drug Policy Advisory?

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For several years between 2015 and 2020, the Florida Drug Policy Advisory Council recommended several evidence-based initiatives that could effectively fight the rise of fentanyl use and the growing opioid epidemic in the state. Now, with an ever-worsening drug and alcohol addiction problem in the state, it is important to evaluate whether Florida has instituted those vital policy proposals. The best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida, Florida Springs in Panama City, is currently investing in an ED Bridge Program to give patients in hospitals a path towards recovery. ED and bridge programs, continuity of care, and improved coordination of health care were a primary focus of the 2016 DPAC Report. Today we will discuss that report and others from the earlier years of the fentanyl epidemic in Florida, and we will discuss what is currently happening in Florida in the fight against addiction. Those reports, as well as FL-DOSE (Florida Drug Overdose Surveillance and Epidemiology), are courtesy of the Florida Department of Health. If you or a loved one needs comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment, one of the state’s best inpatient drug and alcohol rehabs is Florida Springs in Panama City, and intake counselors are available at the phone number listed above.

Florida Department of Health Annual Advisories

At the time of the 2016 Drug Policy Advisory report, deaths from opioids in the previous year had already dwarfed the totals from car accidents and violent crime put together. It was also clear to the advisory committee in every year from 2014 until now that the opioid problem was growing very quickly. The following recommendations appeared in multiple annual advisory reports.

  1. Public Education: Public education and awareness campaigns are powerful tools that can be difficult to study and measure, but like advertising, they encourage people to alter negative behaviors. Altering negative behaviors is a desired outcome. Last Friday we discussed Cascade of Care (CoC) as recommended by The University of South Florida, and public education was a major component of their study as well.
  2. Increase Access to Naloxone: Florida’s Emergency Treatment and Recovery Act (2015) allows health care practitioners to prescribe and dispense naloxone to individuals at risk of an opioid overdose and bystanders or caregivers who might witness an overdose. The innovative component of this legislation is the attempt to get naloxone into the hands of patients and caregivers who may witness an overdose. Although that law allows for many strategies to get Naloxone to many more people, actual funding and continued strategies for making this happen have fallen short. Many people who carry Naloxone for saving the lives of people during an overdose are acting on their own, and many are not aware of any state programs with this intention.
  3. Coordination of Health Care: In 2017, less than 4% of people admitted to an emergency room for opioid withdrawal were guided towards inpatient care or other continuing intensive substance use disorder services. Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center is currently engaged in bringing a program like this to Panama City, but much more needs to be done all over the state, because we know from this report and others that coordination of care saves many lives.
  4. Good Samaritan Laws: Florida’s 911 Good Samaritan Act, section 893.21, Florida Statutes, is intended to encourage people to call 911 during suspected overdoses by offering overdose victims and help-seekers limited immunity from being charged for possession of a controlled substance. Unfortunately, this law does not explicitly protect against arrest. In 2020 a man was charged with a felony for “tampering with evidence” when he admitted to flushing drugs down the toilet after calling 911 to save his friend. Situations where people are punished because of calling 911, which is always the right thing to do, make it harder to save lives in the long run. It is easy to imagine that any person in Florida who heard about that case might delay a 911 call, and it could cost someone their life.

Florida Can Do Better

The four points above were raised by the Florida Department of Health in multiple reports over the last several years. Despite huge increases in both overdose deaths and public attention on this issue, the action that is taken in the state does not always align with the advice of experts within the Florida Department of Health. Recently, the state of Florida greatly increased the jail sentences that would be faced by people selling a drug that kills people, targeting Fentanyl in particular. That is a noble undertaking, but we already know from years of research that more imprisonment does not reduce state drug problems. There is simply no relationship between long jail sentences and rates of addiction, whether that be jail sentences for the criminal dealers or people with substance use disorder who possess drugs. While law enforcement no doubt has a role to play in the solution to the opioid crisis, increased treatment for people with substance use disorder and increased education for a public that greatly misunderstands substance use disorder are the things that the Florida Department of Health is asking for. We should try our best to follow the lead of experts in recovery and addiction medicine wherever we can.

By T.A. Cannon