1. Opinion

Column: Tackling Florida's opioid crisis requires clinical collaboration

A shared database can help health care providers suss out abuse of controlled substances such as OxyContin. [AP file photo]
Published May 2

The opioid epidemic has reached frightening proportions throughout Florida — with an estimated 2,798 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016 alone, higher than the national average. Emergency medicine physicians have advocated strongly for the sharing of information across systems. Right now, emergency medicine physicians are primarily dependent upon information that patients are able or willing to provide.

Last July, Florida passed legislation requiring mandatory drug-lookups in compliance with the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The law is helping to drive much-needed change by sharing information between pharmacies and health care access points across the state. In August, state officials reported that more than 92,000 healthcare providers registered to use an electronic database that tracks patients who are prescribed controlled substances. That's more than double the number of providers who were registered to use the system the year before. While this has been an important step, it is not enough.

This past year, in collaboration with the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida College of Emergency Physicians was able to find a new technology system, provided by Collective Medical, that culls records from healthcare systems throughout the state, analyzes them and pushes that data to emergency physicians pro-actively. The Florida Hospital Association represents more than 200 member hospitals, placing it at the front lines of fostering a statewide culture of collaboration.

An important consideration of both groups is workplace safety issues. If someone has a history of violent outbursts, emergency physicians need to have that information to protect health care providers. Sharing information has been a game changer for hospitals in other states across the country. The relevance of the shared database is dependent upon participation: the more institutions, physician practices, and health care venues that contribute to the database, the more powerful and useful the tool becomes. For example, all 129 of Virginia's hospitals were brought into the network and have seen valuable results so far.

According to Dr. Bruce Lo from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, "A patient came to our emergency department with abdominal pain, representing a 'Crohn's flare,' but did not share that he had been to 10 other emergency departments from other health systems within the past several months. Because we were able to review his outside records and see that he had four CT scans done of the abdomen within this time frame for the same complaint, we were able to skip the unnecessary CT scan and reiterate the plan that was given to him for his follow-up visit. Best of all, no narcotic prescriptions were given."

The benefits for emergency departments alone is enormous: reduction of readmissions, decreased redundancy and unnecessary testing, mitigation of workplace violence risk and fewer prescriptions for controlled substances.

As emergency medicine physicians, we depend on access to information to offer the best care to our patients. The opioid epidemic is claiming the lives of our youth, our aging and complex patient population requires better communication around plans of care, the risk of harm due to violence in the workplace is a reality, and healthcare expenditures are increasing at an unsustainable rate. Now is the crucial time to come together across the state with a collective voice to advocate for improvement in the infrastructure of Florida's health care system.

Dr. Kristin McCabe-Kline is president-elect of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians.


  1. David Straz Jr. passed away this week. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker will be remembered for the range of his philanthropy.
  2. Lucia Hermo, with megaphone, leads chants during a rally against HB 314, the near-total ban on abortion bill, outside of the Alabama State House on Tuesday. [Photo by Mickey Welsh of the Montgomery Advertiser via AP]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor
  3.  Bill Day --
  4. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  5. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  6. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  7. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  9. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.