Wednesday, May 23, 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: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18