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Pill Mill Crackdown Saved 1,000 Lives

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The Florida Legislature’s crackdown on so-called pill mills saved more than 1,000 lives over three years.

That’s according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health Monday. Researchers compared Florida to North Carolina, which had similar prescription drug overdose problems but didn’t make big reforms.

In Florida, law enforcement arrested 47 pill mill owners, doctors and staff, and also suspended 92 DEA licenses to prescribe opioids. Then state laws limited how much doctors could prescribe and curtailed doctor shopping.Florida went from having 98 of the top 100 oxy-prescribing doctors in 2010 to just 13 top-prescribing docs in 2012. But what if addicts just switched from oxy to heroin?

To find out, Johns Hopkins researchers compared Florida to North Carolina, which had similar opiate deaths but didn’t have a big reform. The result?

Two years after the changes, all opioid deaths dropped more than 40 percent. Florida save more than 1,000 lives over three years, said Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management..

“The evidence from our research indicates that legislative and strategic enforcement approaches to reducing pill mill presence in a state may reduce opioid overdose mortality," Kennedy-Hendricks said. “We found Florida’s interventions targeting pill mills were associated with pretty substantial and significant declines in prescription opioid and total opioid, and that includes heroin, overdose deaths.”

The study examined 2003 to 2012, and was funded by an unrestricted grant from insurance company AIG . Researchers say the more recent spike in heroin overdose deaths needs to be studied.