Prescription opioids enable millions of Americans to overcome what might otherwise be agonizing, crippling pain. Yet, each year, those same wonder drugs sicken, addict and even kill thousands of others. Prescription opioid overdoses caused more than 16,000 deaths in the United States during 2010, the last year for which statistics are available – quadruple the number recorded in 1999.

Public- and private-sector officials were slow to respond to this crisis, but there are signs that new measures designed to curb the illicit flow of painkillers are producing results.

A report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that overdose deaths in Florida – one of the states hit hardest by painkiller abuse – fell by 17 percent between 2010 and 2012, from 3,201 to 2,666. Incremental as that decrease may seem, it stands in blessed contrast to the 2003-2010 period, in which deaths rose 75 percent, from 1,829 to 3,201. As the CDC notes, the data suggest that most of the decline is due to fewer prescription opioid overdoses – and that, in turn, reflects policy changes that shut down 250 of the state’s notorious “pill mills,” as high-volume pain-medication dispensaries are known. Once home to 98 high-volume prescribers, Florida now has no such doctors.

The Florida numbers demonstrate that the epidemic can be curbed, even where it seems unstoppable. Also, Florida has not seen the same rise in heroin abuse that has accompanied prescription opioid crackdowns elsewhere. The data, in short, send a clear policy message: Tougher regulation of prescription opioid distribution saves lives. More states need to follow Florida’s example.