Doctors, patients adjust to new opiate prescription law

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A new crackdown on pain pills is in effect.

At the start of this month, several rules changed the way people can be prescribed opiate-based pain medications - as the number of opioid-related deaths in Florida rises.

Some doctors are now looking at the new law and the potential for unintended consequences.

The new rules change how long prescriptions can be given for and how doctors make sure patients are telling the truth. Experts are confident this change is necessary but doctors wonder if it will be tougher for patients who actually need pills to get them.

Tampa chiropractor AJ Rubano's says his patients come with injuries from sports, crashes, falls, and more. Pain pills often aren't the answer, but sometimes, he says they are.

"When someone is in pain, it doesn't allow them to function. Some people literally can't get out of bed," Rubano said.

Until Sunday, doctors only had to check a state database if they were suspicious of their patient's motives. Now, to prevent doctor shopping, they have to check and enter patient info each time. 

Plus, prescriptions are limited to three days, or seven days if doctors document exactly why.

"Obviously there is a certain type of person they are trying to keep from getting these drugs, but I think it will prevent people who could really benefit from them, from getting them as well," said Rubano.

Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg ran the state's pill mill crackdown from 2010 to 2012. 

He's confident the new law properly exempts those with chronic pain.

"The law was passed to stop doctors from prescribing 120 Oxycodones for a foot injury," Aronber said.

The CDC says the number of opioid deaths in Florida dropped from 9.1 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 6.6 per 100,000 in 2013. 

But now the number is at 14.4, thanks in part to fetanyl.

"80 percent of people who are addicted to heroin today started with a prescription," said Aronberg.

Rubano says patients who reach the seven-day limit could resort to medical marijuana, but he fears some may try the black market.

"It is still wait-and-see," said Rubano. "I talked to a medical director today who said I don't want to write anything until I see how this is going to go forward."

Doctors can also be disciplined for not checking the database or even face charges if it keeps happening. The law requires doctors to take a two-hour class about the law by February.