young woman leaning on wall with head down

While every drug detox center does all it can to rehabilitate people who have become addicted, more still needs to be done to prevent the use of addictive substances in the first place. Florida has shown that this is possible with recently introduced laws showing a decrease in opioid related deaths. The data reveals that other states would be wise to follow suit.

Medically, opioids are used for the treatment of pain, with common side effects being sedation, constipation and a strong sense of euphoria. It is the latter symptom that has primarily resulted in the substance being abused recreationally, ultimately leading to addiction. Death from overdose is most often caused by respiratory depression.

In response to the significant concern of over prescription of opioid-based drugs in the early 2000s, businesses dubbed “pill mills” were outlawed in Florida, putting an end to the ease with which individuals could get hold of the drugs. Initially, the concern was that closing down these businesses would only increase potentially lethal use of heroin, but a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University comprehensively refutes this.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

A quick look at the results of the survey is hugely promising. Data – taken from the inception of the new laws in 2010 – indicated that 1029 fewer individuals died in Florida as a result of prescription drug overdose. Further to this, overdose deaths (due to painkillers) decreased by 7.4% in 2010, 20.1% in 2011 and 34.5% in 2012. So, not only are deaths decreasing but at an increasing year-by-year rate.

The state of North Carolina provides some perspective. Without the benefit of Florida’s laws against pill mills, here deaths from painkiller overdoses increased four-fold between 2011 and 2012. As mentioned, although not conclusive, decreasing heroin use seems to have been another positive effect, with developing addictions to this drug lessened without easy access to opioids.

Other States Should Consider Restrictions

Dr. Alene Kennedy Hendricks, who is an assistant scientist at the university, elaborates: “An added benefit of Florida’s increased oversight of unethical businesses and providers dispensing large quantities of narcotics may be that they may have prevented new cases of heroin addiction from developing as well. Other states should consider restrictions on pill mills as one potential way to reduce prescription painkiller overdose deaths.”

However, while the resultant reduction in heroin-related deaths is indeed a positive, further figures indicate that the impact was only temporary. According to Florida medical examiners, 199 people who died from an overdose had heroin in their systems. In 2014, that number more than doubled to 447. However, an increase in heroin-related deaths across the United States (8257 in 2013 to 10 574 in 2014), suggests that this is an epidemic beyond the borders of Florida.

Still, what Johns Hopkins University’s study has proven is that when it comes to the prescription of painkillers, a stringent review of the laws in other states is, at the very least, a question worth asking.