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Florida responds to urgent opioid crisis

May 11, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Last week, Gov. Rick Scott declared the opioid crisis in Florida a public health emergency. His executive order allows the state to pre-emptively access the first half of a $54 million federal grant that otherwise would not be available until July 1.

Many in the Florida treatment community thought the move should have happened sooner because the state is seeing such an alarming rise in overdoses.

In 2015, more than 3,900 deaths in Florida were attributed to opioids, and according to its bureau of vital statistics, in the first six months of 2016 alone, there were 2,664 opioid-related deaths recorded—the most recent data available.

There’s a mounting body of evidence describing the upward trend of the opioid crisis in Florida.

Commercial claims

Exclusive data obtained by Behavioral Healthcare Executive from FAIR Health, a national, independent, not-for-profit that analyzes commercial insurance claims, further demonstrates the challenge Florida is up against. FAIR Health examined its database of more than 23 billion privately billed healthcare claims and found sharp increases in the number of services and procedures that were tied to an opioid-related diagnosis (DSM-IV) in the state from 2007 to 2014.

Among the largest cities, Miami shows a particularly concerning trend with an 11,000% increase in health services delivered by providers that were specifically associated with opioid-related diagnoses across the eight-year timeframe. In fact, when all of Miami’s billed-service claim lines are combined for 2007 through 2014, about 75% of those procedures and services happened in the year 2014 alone.

“We track claim lines because those are the actual procedures and diagnoses as reported by healthcare professionals—as opposed to data that are self-reported,” says Robin Gelburd, JD, president of FAIR Health. “Such data provide a telling window into the healthcare system.”

FAIR Health also found that its database of commercial insurance claims shows evidence of more prevalent opioid overdoses in the 41-to-50 and 51-to-60 year-old age groups in Florida—not among younger adults, as some observers might expect. However, when looking at the volume of claim lines that contain an opioid dependence diagnosis, the diagnosis was present more often for services delivered to 19-to-30 year-olds compared to other age groups.

Gelburd says the data can confirm the dramatic increase in services rendered to those with an opioid abuse and/or dependence diagnoses. The hope is that by illuminating the trend, key stakeholders can design strategies to better address the opioid crisis.

Last year, FAIR Health released national data demonstrating a 3,000% increase in claims with opioid dependence diagnoses among the commercially insured from 2007 to 2014. Additional, national data studying regional aspects of the opioid crisis over a 10-year period will be released later this month.