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Palm Beach Post: POINT OF VIEW: Congress must fund programs to treat opioid overdoses

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Far too many Floridians are affected by the national opioid epidemic. In 2016, more than 4,000 Floridians lost their lives after overdosing, so it is not surprising many of us can name a family member, friend or acquaintance affected by opioid overdoses. Our communities are in danger.

The entire nation is talking about how to solve the opioid crisis and keep our citizens safe. Much of this conversation is focused on treating and preventing addiction, which is certainly critical. However, treating overdoses when they inevitably occur must also be a key component of any federal action. As Congress considers a $6 billion budget allocation to address the national epidemic, I encourage legislators to dedicate a significant portion to protecting citizens from opioid death by increasing funding for programs surrounding the overdose reversing drug, naloxone.

Last year in Liberty City, a Miami-Dade police officer saved the life of a woman overdosing by quickly administering naloxone. Imagine how many more lives could be saved if every single Florida law enforcement officer was equipped with Naloxone.

Naloxone is a medication that works by attaching to the receptors within the brain that opioids target; it blocks the opioid’s impact and allows individuals to breathe normally, ultimately reversing the effects of overdose within minutes. Time is of the essence, however. Naloxone must be administered as soon as possible to achieve the best outcome.

Although medical personnel are equipped with naloxone and can administer the drug once on-scene, the average EMS response time is between 12 to 26 minutes. When every single second could equate to the difference between life and death, there is simply no time to wait. Additionally, 75 percent of opioid deaths occur outside a medical setting where naloxone is typically offered. That means preventing opioid deaths must start in our communities.

Law enforcement officers are often the first to respond to an overdose and therefore have the ability to immediately treat the victim and prevent a fatality. However, there are more than 46,000 law enforcement officers in Florida, and local and state agencies simply do not have the funds to equip all officers with Naloxone. We need Congress to help get this drug into the hands of those who need it. The Appropriations Committee must allocate funding to equip all local, state, and federal officers with the opiate antidote.

Just as law enforcement officers should have access to Naloxone, so should those prescribed opioids. According to the Office of the Inspector General, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are especially at risk for accidental overdose. Prevention is easily achieved through co-prescription, meaning patients receiving an opioid medication would also be prescribed naloxone when appropriate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends naloxone be co-prescribed to all patients receiving high doses of opioids, for patients who take opioids in combination with some other medications, and for those who have a history of substance abuse. Despite these recommendations, there is only one naloxone prescription for every 500 opioid prescriptions.

Congress can enact change by requiring and funding co-prescription of naloxone for every patient that meets the CDC guidelines. Not only will this policy save lives, but it will also save money. Medicare and Medicaid pay for 68 percent of opioid related hospitalizations. Opioid-related Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions are increasing in both number and price – the average ICU cost is $92,000 per opioid overdose. Research shows patients receiving a naloxone co-prescription are less likely to be hospitalized due to opioid overdoses.

We all deserve to be safe and protected from opioid overdose. The Florida Congressional delegation must help our communities and ensure that we can prevent opioid-related fatalities.


Editor’s note: Fuentes is the president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


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