It’s undeniable that opioids have significant utility as tools for healing. These types of drugs are incredibly effective at numbing pain that would otherwise seriously impact a person’s ability to function effectively in the world. However, just like anything else that is inherently powerful, opioids are prone to abuse, and the state of Florida has recently taken action to combat the potential misuse of opioids.
A New Approach to the Opioid Crisis
As of July 1st, 2018, Florida has a new opioid prescription law that limits the prescription of opioids. This new opioid law limits the term of most opioid prescriptions to three days. This development means that, in most situations, you can only get a three-day supply of opioids when you are prescribed OxyContin, PERCOCET, or any other type of prescription opioid.
However, in certain cases, physicians in Florida may prescribe seven-day supplies of opioids for acute pain, which is defined under Florida law as being a “normal, predicted, psychological and time-limited response to an adverse chemical, thermal or mechanical stimulus, associated with surgery, trauma or acute illness.” If you have acute pain that lasts more than seven days, you’ll need to either reduce the amount of opioids that you use each day or return to your doctor for a second prescription after seven days.
This new Florida opioid law doesn’t apply to opioid prescriptions that are used to treat terminal conditions. The treatment of serious traumatic injuries is also exempt, and so is cancer treatment. While these new legal measures may interrupt the supply of some people who habitually use opioids, there are plenty of good reasons why this law has been instated at this particular point in American history.
An opioid is a type of drug that mimics the effects of opium. Some opioids are directly derived from poppies, but others are created synthetically in a lab. Traditionally known as “the milk of the poppy,” pure opium is produced by harvesting the thick, crusty syrup that emerges from a mature poppy when it is cut. Opium has been used recreationally and for medical purposes in India for centuries, and this drug experienced a brief surge of popularity in China in the 19th century due to British trade influence.
While community facilities for opium use had already been relatively popular in India, the popular cultural image of the “opium den” is derived from this drug’s use in underground facilities in China. An opium den is pictured as a dark, illicit chamber in which people lounge around in a near-catatonic state on beds next to opium pipes. While this stylized trope may not be exactly representative of opioid use today, it’s true that using opiates knocks out any ambition you may have had and usually makes it hard even to walk or talk.
Here are some of the ways that opioids affect the minds and bodies of their users:
- The reason for opium’s sedative effect is partially chemical, but it is also psychological.
- Use of high doses of opioids imparts a feeling of bliss that causes other incentives to pale in comparison.
- Some heroin addicts and other heavy opioid users report the feeling of using opioids as being similar to the bliss that is felt by a child being coddled by their mother.
In order to return to this feeling of original bliss, opioid addicts are willing to give a lot away.
American physicians have been aware of the medical benefits of the poppy since the days of the nation’s founding. An isolate of one of the active ingredients in poppy milk, known as morphine, was created in the early 1800s, and it became widely used after the hypodermic syringe was invented in the mid-19th century. Physicians were aware of the potential of morphine abuse from the early days of its use in a medical setting, but drug abuse didn’t become a significant problem in the United States until the normalization of drug culture that occurred in the mid-20th century.
In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, a discovery was made that would prove fateful to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Oxycodone was first created in 1917. This opioid is a semi-synthetic compound, which means that it is a mixture of natural and artificial opioids. Oxycodone is sold under brand names such as PERCOCET and OxyContin, and many versions of oxycodone are also cut with a drug called naloxone, which supposedly blocks the effects of this opioid when it is injected. Naloxone is included in oxycodone drugs due to its anti-addiction benefits, but these benefits have been called under scrutiny in light of the practically unbelievable rate of opioid addiction in the United States today.
An Unprecedented Epidemic
In the early days of OxyContin and PERCOCET, prescription opioids were represented as safe alternatives to other pain-relieving drugs. In particular, opioid manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, told physicians and customers that their opioids were non-addictive and that they had negligible side effects.
It has since come out that Purdue Pharma was fully aware of the potential dangers of their drugs and that they willfully lied about the risks of OxyContin and other opioids. The results of this fabrication include the addiction of thousands of Americans to toxic and dangerous substances and an opioid culture in which the use of OxyContin and other drugs was normalized.
In some cases, the normalization of opioids had consequences that were incredibly beneficial to drug companies but were almost unbelievably impactful in rural American communities. For instance, in 2013, health care providers in West Virginia wrote 110 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in that state. This ratio of prescriptions to people has had a significantly harmful impact on the people of West Virginia. This state has subsequently become one of the epicenters of the opioid crisis.
It’s obvious that the actions of drug manufacturers and health care providers have directly led to decreased quality of life for thousands of Americans. Some citizens of our country have never known a life without opioids; in West Virginia, the instance of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which is when a baby is born addicted to opioids, rose from 7.7 to 33.4 cases per 1,000 live births per year between 2007 and 2013. Babies born with opioid addiction will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.
West Virginia is just one striking example of where opioid addiction has resulted in a harsh toll on human life, but this phenomenon is widespread throughout the entire nation. Opioid addiction and overdose are ravaging the United States, and more and more people suffer from the direct or indirect effects of opioid abuse every year.
Around a quarter of the people in the United States who have been prescribed opioids misuse their drugs, and even a short period of misuse drastically increases your potential for opioid addiction. Even if you never misuse your opioid medication, you can still become addicted.
From Legal to Illegal
Once drug users become hooked on opioids, they’ll search for a different source of the drug they need if they run out. For instance, if their health care provider has an ethical breakthrough or has to comply with state law and decides not to prescribe them any more OxyContin, they’re still addicted to the drug, and they’ll seek alternate ways to get their fix. Unfortunately, illicit forms of opioids are also rampant in the United States, and it’s easy for addicts to get their hands on drugs that are even more dangerous than prescription opioids.
It’s been demonstrated that users are 19 times more likely to start using heroin if they have abused pain relievers before. If illicit opioids were roughly the same strength as prescription options, transferring from legal to illegal opioids wouldn’t cause many more problems than those that are associated with the abuse of prescription medication. However, it’s estimated that fentanyl, which is largely manufactured in China and then smuggled over the Mexican border, is 100 times more potent than morphine.
If an opioid user who has dabbled in heroin, for instance, buys a heroin bag that happens to contain fentanyl, their risk of overdose becomes much higher. Some users decide willingly to try fentanyl, but others are inadvertently exposed to this incredibly potent substance without their knowledge. Since people are much more likely to start using highly dangerous drugs like fentanyl if they have previously been prescribed opiates in a medical setting, the best way to limit the exposure of the American people to this scourge is to impose stricter controls on the opioid prescription protocols in our country.
Why Has Florida Taken Action?
Now that we understand the true nature of opioids, it’s easy to see why the state of Florida has taken action to limit the prescription of these drugs. Over the last few decades, state and federal lawmakers have largely stood by and watched as their communities have been ravaged, as their young generations have been crippled, and as opioids have served as gateway drugs to potent black-market alternatives like fentanyl. Finally, however, public servants around the country are waking up to the serious danger that opioids pose to their constituents, and Florida’s recent reaction to the opioid menace is symptomatic of a great awakening that is occurring across the country.
Everywhere you turn, the tide of opioids, which once seemed unstoppable, is being curbed on every front. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are being held accountable for their lies and greed, and drug lobbyists are losing their influence in Washington. The White House has taken a hard-line approach toward opioids, and a national state of emergency has been declared to push back against the opioid epidemic. Every week, new stories come out about massive drug busts on the U.S./Mexican border, and organized crime syndicates who have profited for too long from the illegal sale of opioids in our county are becoming weakened due to lack of funding.
In the past, opioids were viewed as relatively benign substances with practically limitless potential to help people. Through the early 2000s, miracle stories about PERCOCET and other drugs were promulgated through the mass media apparatus. Thousands of people who wouldn’t have ever considered themselves drug users started trying opioids, and a permissive culture with lots of kickbacks to prescribing physicians caused this drug’s popularity to rise.
However, practically everyone knows someone whose life was destroyed by opioids. When they have adequate access to their drug of choice, opioid addicts are distant, forgetful, and neglectful of their families and friends. If they are ever denied their drugs, however, things can get truly dire.
People experiencing opioid withdrawal can endure profound feelings of nausea or stomach pain. They waste away, and they are often incapable of eating anything besides liquid foods. They complain of intense cramping and pain throughout their bodies, and they are unable to sleep. Due to their intense discomfort, they act out in intense and sometimes terrifying ways, and they may scream or moan at night as they lay in agony unable to sleep.
In some cases, the bodies of opioid addicts begin to break down when they are separated from the drugs upon which they have become addicted, and they need to be carefully guided through the detoxification process to avoid injury. That’s why it’s so important to work with the experts while withdrawing from opioids.
With all of these significant dangers in mind, Florida lawmakers sat down to devise a solution. While limiting the length of opioid prescriptions doesn’t do anything to solve the issues of unwarranted supply and our nation’s permissive drug culture, this new legislation does require that people who use opioids for conditions that aren’t serious stay in close contact with their doctors as they use these potentially dangerous drugs. Most importantly, Florida’s new opioid prescription law brings attention to the dangers that these drugs can cause, and it helps spur on a vital national conversation that has been decades in the making.