It's no secret that the state of Florida faces a deadly crisis with opioids. Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in May, which fast-tracked millions in federal money for prevention, treatment and recovery services. But the state also has lost millions in federal money for mental illness and substance abuse treatment, and the governor should accept Sen. Jack Latvala's proposal that he immediately find state money to combat this scourge.
Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked the governor last week to extend his emergency order and spend $20 million in state reserves on services related to opioid abuse. The Department of Children and Families and its private contractors could then steer the money to areas of the state with the greatest need. When so many Floridians are dying, there is no reason to wait for January's legislative session to decide to spend more state money that would not be available until July.
During the first six months of 2016, opioids killed an average of 14 people every day. That's nearly double the number from 2010, and the crisis shows no signs of abating. Yet Florida still does not have nearly enough treatment centers, workers and beds to meet the needs of addicts. Scott signed into law this year a three-year minimum sentence for people caught with 4 grams of fentanyl or carfentanyl, which should be another deterrent to dealers. But the $10.5 million in state money that was allocated to reduce opioid dependency was far too little, and Congress has failed to come through with billions it was poised to spend nationally as part of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have demonstrated before that they can act decisively to fight a health crisis. Bondi led a crackdown on the pill mill mess that produced tougher penalties for the operators and better oversight of prescription drugs. The problem is that blocking off one avenue for drug abuse produced unintended consequences. Addicts who relied on the pill mills turned to strong opioids such as heroin and fentanyl they could buy on the streets.
The governor dealt effectively last year with the threat posed by the Zika virus, raising public awareness and allocating more than $60 million in general revenue to battle the threat. As Latvala points out, there have been no deaths and no locally acquired Zika cases so far this year. Now the state senator is asking the governor to spend one-third that much fighting opioids that are proving to be far deadlier.
From the additional $20 million, Latvala suggests spending $9 million on residential treatment, $5 million on detox services and $3 million on outpatient treatment. Another $2.4 million would be spent on prevention, and the rest would go to other services. Perhaps Scott has his own ideas on dividing up the money to ensure it helps the most people. Maybe the governor also could come up with a little more money.
Regardless of the details, the bottom line remains the same: Florida has an opioid crisis, and the state is not spending nearly enough to fight it. The Trump administration and Congress should also be providing more help, but the state can't wait for Washington when so many Floridians are dying. Scott should extend the state of emergency and dip into reserves now as Latvala suggests to battle a crisis that is not getting any better.