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Medical society joins fight against opioid epidemic in PBC

Written by: Christine Stapleton, Palm Beach Post

After an unprecedented 590 opioid-related deaths in Palm Beach County in 2016, Palm Beach County doctors are joining the battle as a group against the opioid epidemic.

The Palm Beach County Medical Society Services, a nonprofit that coordinates education and volunteer activities of the county Medical Society, held its first meeting this week to begin working on a medical plan to prevent overdose deaths.

The group’s initiative will be overseen by the Health Emergency Response Coalition, founded in 2001 after a photo-editor at the National Enquirer in Boca Raton was exposed to anthrax and died.

The coalition coordinates disaster and public health emergency response among local hospitals, first-responders and nonprofits. Although it has not yet developed an action plan for the opioid epidemic, the group met Thursday and heard from two doctors in Rhode Island, where the medical community is involved in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s initiative to reduce overdose deaths by one-third in three years.

Under the Rhode Island plan, all doctors would be required to participate in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which requires prescribers to enter data into a statewide database. The plan also calls for prescription limits for temporary pain management and physician training.

Dr. Brent Schillinger, chair of the group’s new opioid task force, expects the controversy of medication-assisted treatment to be among the first issues discussed. Medication-assisted treatment uses drugs such as buprenorphine to wean addicts off opioids. Opponents say the treatment merely substitutes one drug for another.

Schillinger acknowledged that the group has been slow in getting involved. The Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force, a coalition of government agencies, treatment providers and nonprofits, began meeting in June 2016. Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in May 2017.

The group decided to take action after a meeting of medical professionals convened by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, last summer. Frankel asked the group what actions the group had taken.

“It’s hard to say why there was nothing in the past, but we’ve made a major commitment,” Schillinger said.