Our nation is in the middle of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase at an alarming rate. In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) was five times higher than in 1999. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, 116 people died every day specifically from opioid-related drug overdoses, 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids, 42,249 people died from overdosing on opioids, and 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016 there were more than 63,600 overall drug overdose deaths in the United States. The CDC estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Defense meet regularly to coordinate federal efforts to address the opioid epidemic and identify opportunities for additional collaboration between government and external stakeholders.
This epidemic is no exception to the State of Florida; in 2015, there were 2,530 overdose deaths in the state. According to the Florida Department of Health, the counties that have been hit the hardest include Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval and Orange County. Due to these alarming numbers, Governor Scott has taken several steps to combat the opioid epidemic in Florida.
The Governor directed the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange Counties to identify additional strategies to fight the rising opioid usage cases in Florida. He also signed Executive Order 17-146 allowing the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding through the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant. This funding is distributed to communities across the state to deal with the opioid epidemic. In May 2017, Governor Scott directed State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare a Public Health Emergency and issue a standing order for Naloxone (a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose) in response to the opioid epidemic in Florida. Naloxone is distributed as a nasal spray under the name “Narcan” and many first responders are equipped to deliver this drug when necessary. Additionally,the Governor has also proposed major legislation and more than $50 million as part of his 2018-2019 recommended budget to combat opioid abuse in Florida.
Broward County’s Medical Examiner has estimated that, in 2017, in Broward County alone, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids might exceed 1,000. In January 2017, the Florida Behavioral Health Association reported the direct cause of opioid death increased by 56.3% from 2013 to 2015, there were 355 deaths with opioids present in 2015, and 637 fire rescue overdose calls in 2016. This crisis has also created significant financial impacts. Like many local and regional governments, Broward County has experienced additional costs as an employer, as an insurer, and as a service provider. These costs have included, but are not limited to, increased emergency and health care costs, increased law enforcement expenses, and increased substance abuse treatment and diversion plan expenses.
Broward’s Efforts In The Fight To Combat The Opioid Crisis Litigation
In an effort to address the human toll and financial impacts, local governments throughout the United States have begun retaining counsel and filing lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. The cases filed to date allege, among other things, that manufacturers committed unfair or deceptive trade practices, including by misrepresenting the medical science, regarding the use of prescription opioids to treat chronic pain. The manufacturers are alleged to have
marketed opioids under false or misleading statements that opioid pain medications are not addictive and are safe for long-term use, despite knowledge that opioids are addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic pain. The distributors are alleged to have acted in accord with manufacturers, and in direct violation of federal law, including by failing to report suspicious sales both in terms of quantity and frequency. In December 2017, the Board of County Commissioners authorized the filing of litigation against manufacturers, distributors, and other potential parties in connection with the opioid epidemic. After extensive due diligence by the Broward County Attorney, four law firm teams were selected and ranked. These four teams presented to the Board in January 2018 and then approved the selection of the first ranked team. This outside counsel will now represent the County in connection with the opioid epidemic litigation.
The United Way of Broward County Commission on Substance Abuse, Broward Addiction Recovery Center and the Broward Sheriff’s Office initiated an integrated collaborative community response. By advancing prevention, treatment and wellness as the community’s focus, extensive work has been done to address the increasing rates of opiate use and the corresponding increases in deaths with wide-spread outreach and education throughout all municipalities in Broward County.
A Community Response Team has been formed to assess the state of the opiate epidemic in Broward and to unify outreach efforts with all community stakeholders.
The Board of County Commissioners continues its support for providing services through the Broward Addiction Recovery Center (BARC). BARC offers a comprehensive range of services for Broward County residents over the age of 18 who are affected by substance abuse and/or co-occurring disorders. The Board’s fiscal year 2018 adopted budget included funding which addresses critical county priorities. Specifically, in response to the opiate crisis, the board approved funding the expansion of treatment at the
new BARC facility with increased detox bed capacity, and providing additional staff for the county’s Medical Examiner.
As we continue our efforts in this fight to combat the opioid epidemic, which has been deeply affecting families nationwide, there is much work to be done. If there is anything that we can do to assist you and your community with your vision for a better Broward, please do not hesitate to contact our office. As always, it is my honor to serve you.