By staff writer

February 2019

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70,237 Americans died from overdose in 2017. This outnumbered nationwide deaths from both gun violence and car accidents. This staggering number of deaths is directly related to increased access to powerful opioids, and young people in particular are being hit hard. With the abrupt loss of the healthiest and most productive members of society, U.S. life expectancy has dropped three years in a row. The country has not seen this kind of consecutive-year decline since World War II.

In Florida, the news is a little bit brighter. A recent study by the Drug Enforcement Agency found that the state reduced its sale of opioids by 62 percent between 2010 and 2017. And according to recent data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, overdose deaths dropped in Miami-Dade County in 2017. One reason for this reduction is the IDEA Exchange, Florida’s first and only needle exchange program. Through this program, which was established in 2016, the county has been saturated with thousands of doses of naloxone, an overdose-reversal agent used by first responders and emergency departments.

Other healthcare industry leaders are getting involved in the war on opioids as well. Our team at Invest: Miami recently spoke with Penny Shaffer, market president at Florida Blue, about what the insurance provider is doing to help combat the epidemic.

“At Florida Blue, we are taking an aggressive approach to fighting this opioid crisis in Florida,” Shaffer told Invest:. “We were the first health insurer in the state to eliminate coverage of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. Our Florida Blue Foundation is contributing nearly $3 million to organizations that are providing front-line opioid addiction support. In October, we convened an Opioid Imperative at our Innovation Center in Lake Nona, bringing together leaders and influencers from the healthcare system, academia, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, first responders, government, those personally affected by addiction, families, employers and others to further discuss the issues we are facing and shine a light on effective solutions. And most recently, we announced a joint effort to develop a collaborative approach to the problem in one of the hardest hit areas in our state: Central Florida.”

However, despite these small gains, the opioid crisis is by no means nearing an end. “The opioid crisis is not something one organization can solve on its own,” Shaffer said. “It takes a team of dedicated individuals and organizations coming together, committed to the cause — and that is why we are partnering with a number of stakeholders to address this epidemic in communities across Florida.”

Echoing this sentiment of dedication and collaboration, H. Bruce Hayden, CEO of Banyan Health Systems, told Invest:, “Right now, society simply cannot support the population of people struggling with opioid addiction. However, we can be supportive of solving this issue through both collaboration and education.”

Hayden also underscored the importance of continuity of care in treating patients addicted to opioids. “Given the current healthcare climate, the industry is now a world of mergers and acquisitions,” he told Invest:. “There is an increased need for specialization and the ability to offer a continuum of services, which is one of the things Banyan Health Systems has strived to do as an organization with our community partners.”

With more than 140 Americans dying every day from overdoses of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, opioids are the leading cause of death in the U.S. Miami-Dade’s healthcare leaders are taking this epidemic very seriously and working together to implement solutions that will save thousands of lives.

For more information on our interviewees, please visit their websites:
Florida Blue, https://www.floridablue.com/
Banyan Health Systems, https://www.banyanhealth.org/