JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On July 1, Florida enacted one of the strictest opioid prescribing laws in the country. It’s all in response to the opioid epidemic that killed more than 42,000 people in 2016 according to the CDC.
Jacksonville resident Crystal Harrison came close to becoming part of that statistic.
“I remember doing the pregnancy test, putting it on the ground and shooting up while I was waiting for the test results to come back,” Harrison recalled.
Her all-consuming drive to get high didn't stop when she got pregnant. She says her opioid addiction started when she was just 16 with a prescription to help alleviate pain caused by ovarian cysts.
“I was prescribed them for about two months, and when the prescription ran out I started looking in the street for them. I went from Lortab to Oxycodone to heroin to fentanyl, and all it was just, it's been a downhill effect since I was sixteen until now twenty-eight,” Harrison said.
Her addiction led her to the brink of death. Three times Narcan revived her.
She says her addiction led to permanently losing custody of her three children.
“[Opioids] destroyed my life. I'm rebuilding. It's like a fire came through a city and burned everything down and everyone in it. Everything I've touched turned to black,” said Harrison.
The new law that went into effect July 1st in Florida means doctors are now only be able to write a prescription for a three-day supply of opioids for acute pain, or a seven-day supply if its needed -based on the professional judgment of the prescriber.
“Once they hit that seven-day mark, the risk of abuse or adverse events goes up a lot; 21% for every week past seven days,” said Dr. Brian Yorkgitis, a trauma surgeon at UF Health in Jacksonville.
Dr.Yorkgitis has seen firsthand what addiction to opioids can do.
“No one wakes up today and says I'm going to be a drug addict. You know, I mean one of my passions about this is my cousin died of opioid addiction,” said Dr. Yorkgitis.
Every day patients who have overdosed are brought to the emergency room at UF Health. Across the nation the numbers are staggering. An average of 115 people die each day from an opioid overdose.
“We know in a lot of surgical studies that only about 25% of the prescribed pills are used, so 75% percent are out there for diversion. Diversion means that non-patients are taking them; friends, family members and that's really a gateway into the drug addiction,” said Dr. Yorkgitis.
These new restrictions on prescription opioids only apply to patients with acute pain.
“So patients who have cancer pain, terminal illnesses that are getting pain medicine their prescriptions will remain the same. The only thing that might change is their wait time in the doctor's office. Every prescription that is written for a controlled substance has to go through a Florida state database called E-FORCSE,” said Dr. Yorkgitis.
Three days before her fourth child was born, Harrison checked in to Gateway, an addiction treatment facility in Jacksonville where she now lives.
“Gateway saved my life…I mean there's nowhere else I'd rather be. This place has saved me. It's helping me get my son back,” Harrison said. “If I was still in the street I wouldn’t doubt I'd be dead by now.”
Harrison has been clean for six months now.
"This is it I'm done," she said. “So many people around me who have died close people, close people. I still hear stories going on now that I'm here of my friends left and right that are found dead. It's scary, and I hate the fact that I've lost so much."
She hopes this new law will prevent people from dying and doesn't have an unintended consequence with tighter control on prescription opioids.
"When pills got harder to find and more expensive, heroin was easier to find and cheaper,” Harrison said. “There's pros and cons to everything and definitely I think some people will find heroin because it's going to become easier for them to get, but some people, it's going to save a lot of people's lives."
Harrison says she was just awarded full custody of her baby. It’s a second chance she is grateful for, and she wants everyone to know help is available.