Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Monday that represents the state’s first wholesale legislative response to the crisis that kills about 16 Floridians per day.
“I am proud to continue our fight against opioids by signing this major legislation today,” Scott said at a signing ceremony in Bradenton. “This bill will help limit the chance of drug addiction, reduce the ability for dangerous drugs to spread in Florida’s communities and give vulnerable Floridians needed support.”
The new law sets aside about $53 million, in addition to funds in the budget signed last week, which brings the total to about $65 million, to enhance opioid treatment, law enforcement response and provide the life-saving, overdose-reversal drug Naloxone to first responders.
While the funding is not as much as some had hoped, the new law represents policy changes supported by activists: It creates a three-day limit on powerful opioids for patients with acute, short-term pain, with some exceptions for a week-long supply. The length of prescriptions for some people, like cancer patients, will not be affected.
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It also requires prescribers and pharmacists to use the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a statewide database of controlled substance prescriptions, and ramps up penalties for doctors that give out drugs without proper medical justification.
“This has been an extremely difficult time for law enforcement personnel and treatment providers as we fight to save those addicted to opioids and heroin,” said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells just before the signing. “For many, their addiction began after receiving a legal opioid prescription following a medical procedure. That is why it is crucial for all of us to control and monitor opioid prescriptions in our state.”
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, had originally fought to put more funding into the bill along with the Senate’s bill sponsor, Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. But he dropped his amendment after the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14 dramatically shifted the Legislature’s priorities and ended in a new school safety law tied to $400 million in funding.
The opioid bill nearly died in the Legislature this year, after a last-minute dispute broke out between the House and Senate over which types of drugs could be purchased to treat addiction. But lawmakers settled on three drugs, and it was passed late on the final night of the session.
Scott signed the bill, HB 21, at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in Bradenton — one of the epicenters of the state’s opioid crisis. The governor rolled out the legislation at the Bradenton Police Department last year.
He was also scheduled to hold another ceremonial signing Monday afternoon in Boca Raton, another center of the crisis.
Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.