Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Treatment, not prison, needed to fight opioid crisis

Florida needs to take advantage of every opportunity to bring awareness and resources to the deadly opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across the state. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions comes to Tampa today to discuss federal efforts to combat the crisis, but if he sticks to his script of late he will focus on enforcement and punishment instead of where the attention really needs to be: rehabilitation. Without a meaningful commitment at all levels of government to treating addiction, this crisis will continue claiming lives.

In speeches over the last week, Sessions has vowed a surge by the Drug Enforcement Administration in targeting pharmacies and prescribers that dispense unusually high amounts of drugs. Using data from drug manufacturers, Sessions has said DEA analysts will look for patterns that lead them to lawbreakers. Penalizing suppliers — not users — is a smart way to apply law enforcement muscle. But it doesn’t deal with addiction, which is what continually fuels demand for the drugs.

The scourge began with pharmaceutical companies pushing powerful, highly addictive opioid drugs to treat all kinds of pain. But taken beyond the prescribed amount, the drugs can also produce a high. Addicted patients and recreational users soon turned to pill mills that provided hundreds of pills with few questions asked. An appropriate state crackdown led by Attorney General Pam Bondi closed most of Florida’s pill mills, but that gave rise to a new demand for street drugs such as heroin. The epidemic now encompasses all forms of opioids, creating an unprecedented public health crisis that kills 14 people a day in Florida. Treating addiction is the only way to contain it.

Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed budget, is seeking $53 million to fight the epidemic — $27 million of which would come from federal grants. The money would fund drug treatment, law enforcement efforts and help local fire departments acquire the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. It’s a decent start, but it’s not enough from a governor who made substance abuse treatment a low priority for too long. State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is asking for an additional $25 million just for treatment, which is likely a long shot but adds some perspective regarding the scale of this problem.

Scott is also backing legislation that limits prescriptions for narcotics to a three-day supply, with some exceptions to allow doctors to prescribe seven days’ worth. That’s still too restrictive for the many responsible patients who need opioids for legitimate pain, and requiring a doctor’s visit several times a month to renew a prescription would burden low-income people, the very ill and those with mobility issues. Lawmakers should listen to medical experts and fine-tune that proposal. The bill also gives broader authority to the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, enabling the sharing of data with other states, and requires doctors to check the database before writing prescriptions as well as undergo extra education. Those are smart measures that should be enacted.

Sessions’ stop in Tampa is an important moment to bring renewed attention to a crisis that cannot be ignored. But enforcement actions by the DEA will amount to nothing more than another failed push in the nation’s long drug war if not enough is done to help addicts get treatment and quit for good. State leaders should be ready to find more money to help meet that dire need.

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Editorial: Hillsborough Commission candidates should take a stand on transit tax

Editorial: Hillsborough Commission candidates should take a stand on transit tax

It’s no surprise that virtually every candidate running for Hillsborough County Commission has promised to make transportation their top priority. Yet few of them have firmly embraced or opposed a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation that H...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Forceful words are coming from the pope’s pen as well as pulpits around Tampa Bay: The sexual abuse of minors, which proliferated for decades within the Roman Catholic Church, were not merely sins but crimes whose repercussions are still being felt b...
Published: 08/20/18
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/20/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18