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The Daytona Beach News-Journal: A new weapon in opioid fight

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Florida’s new attorney general, Ashley Moody, deserves credit for her quick and consuming focus on one of the biggest threats to life and safety across Florida — the uphill battle against the opioid abuse crisis.

Under Moody’s predecessor, Pam Bondi, Florida finally joined lawsuits against drug manufacturers, pharmacy chains and others that promoted widespread use of, and easy access to, powerful prescription painkillers that were never as safe as they were portrayed in the initial waves of marketing.

Use of the highly addictive drugs created a new class of addicts in the United States, many of whom first started taking the medication for legitimate pain. The demand led to a shameful situation in Florida, where lax laws led the rise of “pill mills” that at their peak were processing thousands of spurious prescriptions a day.

When the Legislature tightened those laws, those addicts turned to street drugs like heroin and incredibly potent synthetics like Fentanyl. Overdose rates skyrocketed. Addiction treatment options for people who wanted to shake off the physical craving and psychological dependence of opiates were quickly overwhelmed.

Filing suit against the corporate giants that knew the truth about the drugs they were peddling made sense. The opiate lawsuits are already bearing fruit, both in punitive awards and information. Drug company executives have admitted they knew, and misrepresented, the drugs’ potential for abuse and profit, even after addicts decided to seek help.

In April, The New York Times reported on internal documents from Purdue Pharma that outlined the company’s next-step plan: Having helped produce millions of addicts, the company could reap a second round of profits from drug therapies designed to treat addiction.

Florida faced one big challenge in its lawsuits: a lack of data to back its claims that this state, in particular, was bearing a heavy burden. That’s why lawmakers voted recently to give Moody access to the drug database developed to monitor prescriptions for signs of pill mills and “doctor shopping” in Florida.

The access makes privacy advocates nervous, for good reason. In their zeal to cut down on new opioid addiction, the Legislature has created significant barriers for people who suffer from legitimate pain and now struggle to access the drugs they need to survive without agony. This gives them a new, legitimate fear that intimate medical data could be exposed as part of the official court record.

They should be reassured. The bill was carefully crafted to give Moody’s office the data it needs, while stripping information that would identify individual patients. The result: a well-tuned, potent weapon that could be decisive in the legal battles to come — without damaging the very people who have already become casualties in this conflict.

— Daytona Beach News-Journal

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