Saturday, December 16, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Feds, state need to step up on opioid crisis

The widespread devastation of the opioid crisis becomes clearer with each new report. Nationwide, opioids have helped increase mortality rates for the first time this century, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In Florida, during the first six months of 2016 opioids killed an average of 14 people every day. Only a comprehensive, aggressive response coordinated by the federal and state governments will start to reverse the drug epidemic that is ravaging families and communities.

Led by Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida aggressively cracked down on the pill mill crisis that peaked in 2010. Tougher penalties for pill mill operators and better oversight of prescription drugs were effective measures that helped reverse the trend. But cracking down on one area of drug abuse created unintended consequences, as addicts who relied on pill mills turned to stronger opioids available on the streets, such as heroin and fentanyl. In 2010, eight people in Florida were dying every day on average from opioids. For the first half of 2016, that average nearly doubled. The broad trend is the same nationally, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that prescriptions for opioids declined between 2012 and 2015 as the overall death rate from drugs such as heroin and fentanyl rose much faster.

State officials are on the case. Gov. Rick Scott extended his declaration of a public health emergency to distribute $27 million in federal money for various treatment and prevention programs, including $17.8 million for medication-assisted treatment and related counseling. A three-year minimum sentence for people caught with 4 grams of fentanyl or carfentanyl approved by the Legislature this spring and signed into law by Scott should be another deterrent to dealers. The $10.5 million in state money allocated by Tallahassee to reduce opioid dependency will help as well. But the scale of this effort remains too small.

Ohio, for example, spends roughly $1 billion per year to fight drug abuse. Florida still does not have enough treatment centers, workers and beds to meet the needs of addicts. Emergency rooms have been overwhelmed with treating people for overdoses and rely on a revive-and-release strategy, with no legal requirements to do more. That leaves plenty of room to exploit the situation. Politico reported this week about so-called "sober homes" in Palm Beach County that attract thousands of addicts and charge outrageous prices for screening to soak up insurance money. They are largely unregulated, provide no treatment and generate dozens of emergency calls for overdoses.

Strong federal support is the essential element in making massive changes, and President Donald Trump promised in March "to help those who have become so badly addicted.'' Yet Washington has failed to deliver. The Republican legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would weaken efforts to fight opioid abuse, particularly by reducing federal money that would be spent for Medicaid. A proposal to add $45 billion in the next decade to fight opioids in the Senate bill pales in comparison to the $772 billion in overall Medicaid reductions it would make by 2026. Grant money has to complement health coverage, not substitute it.

To effectively combat this crisis will require a more aggressive and holistic response — and not just on the punishment side. The critical step is greatly expanding treatment and prevention resources to help addicts. That requires long-term care, counseling and oversight that hospitals and treatment centers across the state simply do not have the capacity or financial resources to provide now. Florida and other states cannot reverse the tide by themselves, and the president and Congress need to step up with a real commitment of money and resources.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17