Rick Scott calls public health emergency over opioid epidemic

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott
Published May 3, 2017

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday declared a public health emergency in the state to address the opioid epidemic.

The declaration allows the state to draw down more than $54 million in federal funds over the next two years for prevention, treatment and recovery services. In 2015, nearly 4,000 people died in Florida due to opioid overdoses.

"(U.S. Health and Human Services) Secretary Dr. Tom Price awarded the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant to Florida and I want to thank the Trump Administration for their focus on this national epidemic," Scott said in a statement. "I have also directed State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare a public health emergency and issue a standing order for Naloxone in response to the opioid epidemic in Florida."

As recently as last month, Scott declined to declare a public health emergency to address the opioid epidemic, the epicenters of which are in Palm Beach and Manatee counties. Instead, he began a tour of workshops between state agencies related to the crisis.

"We're going to have these workshops and we're going to see if there's ideas that we can put forth that might have an impact," Scott said. "We're going to see what we can learn, but all of us have to understand that we all have to be involved with this."

In February, Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens called on the governor to declare a state of emergency.

"There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it," Braynon wrote in a letter.

Scott has declared statewide emergencies in the past for public health crises with far smaller death tolls.

Last year, he declared an emergency over the Zika virus before it was spreading in Florida. In 2014, he called one related to the ebola epidemic in West Africa. He declared one last month to address wildfires in the state.

An emergency declaration allows the governor to direct immediate spending to combat problems and allows public health officials to move quickly in response to a crisis.