Opioid abuse has been on the rise across the country, and Florida is no exception.
Governor Rick Scott recently declared a state of emergency in Florida to fight opioid abuse, making almost $30 million in federal funds available for prevention, treatment and recovery.
According to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, which recently declared a national opioid epidemic, nearly 3,900 people in Florida alone died as a result of opioid abuse in 2015. Numbers like these make those of us in the addiction recovery field even more determined and committed to helping people struggling with drug problems. It is our hope that through physician-led treatment, we can reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in Florida.
In a recent Jacksonville Magazine article entitled “Apocalypse Now: Jacksonville’s Opioid Crisis,” I was interviewed on just this subject. Along with the many others in our community concerned about this epidemic, I discussed how we’ve gotten here: “’We got to the point where we didn’t tolerate discomfort in our patients,’ says Jeremy Mirabile, M.D., Medical Director of Recovery Keys, an addiction treatment and rehabilitation center in Jacksonville and St. Augustine. ‘We were fixing bones and giving sight to the blind as a medical community, so why can’t we reduce or eliminate pain as well?’”
With such advanced medical practices available, we were expecting to avoid pain altogether during treatment and recovery. Accrediting agencies supported this concept as well in labeling pain the “fifth vital sign” and integrating that assessment into quality performance metrics. This led to our overprescription of opioids and while not having enough education about their safe use and potential high risk populations. For a patient who’s never used controlled substances but may be predisposed to addiction or for someone who has had addictive disease of any kind, this creates the perfect storm, setting them up for substance abuse problems.
The interview also touched on what could be done to prevent deaths following overdose, including increased availability of emergency treatments for opioid overdose. I stress the importance of proactively trying to prevent overdoses on the front end rather than focusing solely on such post-overdose treatments:
“Mirabile…believes that…more proactive action needs to be taken by family physicians to screen their patients, spot addiction and help treat it before it spins out of control. He suggests that the screening tool used by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—a simple one-page questionnaire also known as SBIRT, which stands for ‘screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment’—be integrated into the lineup of tests primary care doctors conduct on their patients during their annual wellness checkups. These ideas—and more that have been brought to the table—are all feasible; but in order for them to come to fruition, they need to become a part of a broader discussion and plan of action.”
It is heartening to see this broader discussion taking place now with Governor Scott’s support and declaration. With the continued involvement of government officials, medical professionals and other members of the community, we hope to make progress against this epidemic. At Recovery Keys, my team and I have long known that recovery from addiction is possible with the help of qualified professionals. This state of emergency declaration bolsters our resolve to change and save lives.