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Recently, The Palm Beach Post released a series of stories that delved deep into the role that Florida played in the development of the opiate addiction crisis in the US. According to the investigative series, it is Florida legislators who did nothing to stop the proliferation of so-called pill mills for 10+ years that are most to blame, Marco Rubio included.
During that period, Florida pill mills were legendary and often a tourist destination, with people coming in from out of state by the busloads to get easy access to addictive pills. This made it simple for people who developed an addiction to their medication and those who abused opiate painkillers recreationally to connect with a steady stream of drugs to maintain that addiction.
In this way, opiate addiction spread across the country rapidly. Though started by unsafe practices by prescription drug manufacturers and loose prescribing procedures by doctors, it was proliferated by people in power in the medical community and the government who saw what was happening in terms of increasing rates of overdose and families destroyed by addiction and did nothing.
Though the investigation is ongoing into who exactly is responsible for the opiate epidemic, it is clear that government officials in Florida played a significant role, and Marco Rubio personally was a player in that process.
Currently, like most states, Florida has a statewide prescription drug monitoring database for doctors and pharmacists to monitor the use of addictive medications by patients. Called the Electronic Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation, or E-FORCSE, doctors use it by entering the medications and doses as well as other controlled substances that they prescribe to patients. This allows other doctors to check the database and avoid doubling up on similar scripts. It also offers pharmacists the opportunity to double check the dosage and make sure that no mistakes or fraudulent attempts to divert the pills are slipping through the cracks.
It is a wildly successful system that Marco Rubio reportedly blocked with his single vote back in 2002 when the painkiller abuse problem was building up steam. Some say that it was not an opposition to the system that caused him to vote against it and stop the legislation from moving forward, but a revenge move pointed at another politician who had blocked one of his measures with his single vote.
We can’t know whether or not there would have been another barrier to the bill further down the line if Rubio had not blocked it. What we do know is that the process stopped with him. Between 2002 and 2011, when E-FORCSE was finally implemented, about 35,000 people in Florida would die of a painkiller overdose.
Surrounding state governments have long been frustrated with Florida’s lack of action against the opiate painkiller problem exploding within their borders, not because they are concerned about Floridians but because the pills from Florida have caused serious health problems with addiction in their own states. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott considered putting the brakes on E-FORCSE, and government officials in Kentucky spoke out against the move.
Many experts say that more than half of the illicit pills in states like Kentucky during that time came straight from Florida, but the fact is that pills from Florida drove illicit painkiller use and abuse not just in neighboring states but across the country. For this reason, federal lawmakers weighed in as well.
Congressman Hal Rogers was chairman of the US House Appropriations Committee at that time. He reportedly wrote to Scott on two separate occasions, “alarmed and dismayed” that the governor was trying to repeal the database in a bill that he connected with his budget proposal.
Rogers wrote: “The notion of canceling Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program is equal to firing firefighters while your house is ablaze … Your state’s participation is paramount to the success of our nation in fighting this problem, helping addicts get treatment and prosecuting pushers.”
Who is responsible for the opiate epidemic in the US? Did Florida officials play a role? Is enough being done today to save the lives of people living with an addiction to opiate drugs?