As a doctor of medicine who has taken a solemn oath to do no harm, I am extremely troubled by a bill sponsored by state Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, that would allow optometrists — practitioners who do not go to medical school — to use scalpels and lasers to perform surgery on the human eye.
While this is an extremely dangerous component of House Bill 1037, there is another portion that is just as dangerous. The bill would enable optometrists to prescribe virtually all oral medications in the Physician Desk Reference, including opioids and other habit-forming narcotics. In fact, the bill authorizes the state Board of Optometry to allow optometrists to prescribe some of the most addictive narcotics such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin).
Florida is the epicenter of our nation’s opioid addiction epidemic. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that “180,000 lives have been lost” due to opioid addiction since 2000. And The Palm Beach Post has reported that the opioid epidemic cost Florida hospitals over $1.1 billion in the first nine months of 2015, and contributed to nearly 600 overdose deaths in 2016.
As a medical doctor who treats thousands of patients with eye diseases each year, I’ve prescribed pain medications to only a handful of my patients. To combat this public health crisis, the last thing the state of Florida should do is issue new prescribing pads to 4,000 nonmedical professionals.
I’m not naïve. I fully understand that the optometrists have funneled millions of dollars into the legislative process. It’s no shock to me that they would seek something in return. I am shocked, however, that lawmakers are being misled into giving them “something” that would endanger patients and exacerbate the opioid addiction epidemic that scourges our state.
The right thing to do is for Diaz to pull his bill. Do it for the patients. Do it for those who are addicted, and do it for their kids. Do it to protect the people who elected him to serve on their behalf.
JAIME MEMBRENO, ORLANDO
Editor’s note: Dr. Jaime Membreno is legislative chairman of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology.
Florida is the epicenter of our nation’s opioid addiction epidemic.