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Florida’s opioid crisis needs another $20 million, senator says

Sen. Latvala says the health emergency is an “existential threat to the people of our state.”

The budget chairman of the Florida Senate is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to allocate another $20 million from state reserves toward the ongoing opioid crisis.

Calling the health emergency an “existential threat to the people of our state,” Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday that Floridians cannot wait until the Legislature passes the next state budget in March before more state resources are funneled to address the crisis.

Related: THE LETTER: Read Sen. Latvala's letter to Gov. Rick Scott

Opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 Floridians and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths in 2015, the last year data is available. Citing death trends for this year, Latvala cautioned that “by the time the Legislature passes a budget in March 2018, over 2,700 more Floridians could die.”

“We must provide the proper financial resources to those communities across Florida that have been struggling with this crisis for many years and join together to help end the stigma of addiction,” wrote Latvala, who is a 2018 candidate for governor. “I urge you in the strongest terms to continue to lead on this issue.”

After Latvala’s letter was sent this morning — also requesting an extension of a statewide emergency declaration that was set to expire in the coming days — Scott’s office noted this afternoon that the emergency declaration was “already extended today.”

Related: PREVIOUS: Rick Scott declares Florida's opioid epidemic is a statewide emergency

Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone did not give a definitive reply to Latvala’s request for $20 million but said in a statement the governor “has been extremely focused on this issue” and “will be announcing his legislative package to fight this national epidemic in the coming weeks, which will include significant increases of funding.”

“We are hopeful the Legislature will support the governor’s proposal,” Schenone said.

Scott declared the opioid epidemic to be a formal health emergency in May, which opened up more than $27 million in federal aid. That 60-day executive order was extended for the first time in July. Monday’s order prolongs it for another 60 days.

In his letter, Latvala also called on Scott to “call on our leaders in Washington to follow through on their promise of addressing the opioid public health crisis,” which Schenone did not address in her statement.

Related: RELATED: As Florida's opioid crisis worsens, what are state officials doing?

President Donald Trump — who is a close ally of Scott — earlier this month verbally declared the epidemic a “national emergency,” but Trump hasn’t signed any formal declaration to that effect, which would open up more federal resources.

“As you are aware, this is a critical next step in directing millions of dollars towards expanding treatment facilities, supplying police officers and first responders with anti-overdose remedies, and waiving federal regulations,” Latvala wrote. For the state’s part, he added: “As we can both agree, much more work is needed and I believe that the existing efforts of our local first responders and treatment providers can be bolstered by the immediate release of $20 million from the state’s reserves.”

“This investment will have a positive return and impact on jobs and our economy by countering the tremendous loss of productivity resulting from the opioid public health crisis,” Latvala said.