Pain, pain, go away: Finding a middle ground in Florida’s opioid epidemic

Opioid abuse is a growing medical problem in the nation and in Florida. In 2015, 52,404 Americans died as a result of drug abuse, or about 142 individuals every day. This makes opioid abuse a greater killer than automobile accidents or gun-inflicted homicides and suicides. About one-third of the deaths are from opioids prescribed by physicians.
For several years, Florida led the nation in opioid deaths. I-75 was known as the “Oxy Express,” because so many out-of-state residents headed to Florida to take advantage of the explosive growth of pill mills. According to Simon Gaugush, “Florida was ground zero for pill mills.”
In one six-month period, a single pill mill in Tampa treated 1,906 patients from 23 states and wrote scripts for more than 1 million oxycodone pills. In 2010, these pill mills collectively prescribed 650 million oxycodone pills, enough for 34 pills for every Floridian. Of the top 100 doctors in the United States prescribing oxycodone, 98 were from Florida.
The problem was clear and Florida took action. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi created the Florida Regulatory Drug Enforcement Task Force, whose primary goal was to close down the pill mills and reverse Florida’s opioid epidemic.
The Task Force was highly successful in achieving its objective. 3,742 individuals were arrested, including 67 physicians. The Task Force seized 848,037 pills, 121 vehicles, 538 weapons and over $10 million in cash. 254 pill mills were closed down.
Another result of the Task Forces effort was a substantial reduction in the number of oxycodone pills that were prescribed. In three years, the number of oxycodone pills prescribed dropped from 650 million in 2010 to 313 million in 2013, or a decline of over 50 percent.
The closure of pill mills greatly reduced the opioid epidemic in Florida. It used to be that most doctors in

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