Sunday, August 19, 2018
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: 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: 08/17/18
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
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18