Florida is at war. We are facing a growing battle against the destructive forces of opioid addiction.
Make no mistake — this is a raging, destructive epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included Florida among 26 states that experienced “statistically significant” increases in drug overdose death rates between 2015 and 2016. Of those states, Florida’s increased rate of overdose drug deaths — more than 47 percent — was second highest.
It is crucial that our state’s leaders make the right decisions about how we confront this significant and growing scourge.
One area that demands immediate attention is the need to offer a variety of choices for combating opioid addiction.
In medicine, every patient is different from the next. What works for some patients is not as effective for others.
Buprenorphine/naloxone can be an effective compound to wean people away from opioid addiction. There are several proven drugs within this class, yet Florida inexplicably recommends only one — Suboxone film — for the state’s large market of Medicaid patients.
By officially designating Suboxone film as a “preferred” drug, the state has awarded it an exclusivity while other, proven opioid addiction medications remain unlisted for use by Florida Medicaid physicians and patients.
Why, at a time when this statewide disaster continues to grow, should we limit the weapons used to try to deal with it? It makes no sense. More than 50 Florida doctors have signed a petition urging the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration to expand — not limit — the choices available to treat opioid addiction among Medicaid patients.
This position is in keeping with recommendations from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, The Kennedy Forum and the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Some Florida legislators are acknowledging the need to expand treatment options. Language was recently added to a bill submitted by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto that encourages an expanded number of effective opioid addiction medications. That’s a step in the right direction.
There are more issues that ought to be taken into consideration as Florida mobilizes against this considerable adversary that is killing our fellow citizens and destroying families.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and 40 other attorneys general are suing the maker of Suboxone film for conspiring to keep the cost of the drug artificially high.
Thus Florida rewards Suboxone film with an exclusive recommendation for its use while at the same time it spends public resources on an antitrust lawsuit aimed at the very same drug.
We can’t afford to attack this issue with anything less than a coordinated, ferocious offensive. There are many issues — some of them highlighted here — that need to be considered. Time is not on our side.
For all of these reasons, I encourage Gov. Rick Scott, AHCA Secretary Justin Senior and Medicaid Deputy Secretary Beth Kidder to do the right thing and expand the choices of buprenorphine/naloxone products used to effectively treat opioid addiction. Narrowly restricting these choices doesn’t make sense at a time when Florida is rightfully acknowledging this serious and worsening problem.
Mark Sacher, D.O., a pain medicine specialist in Ocala, Florida, has been practicing for 25 years. He graduated from New York College Of Osteopathic Medicine, New York Institute Of Technology in 1988 and specializes in pain medicine, family medicine.
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