homepage logo

Efforts to address opioid crisis hailed

By Staff | Apr 4, 2019

Local leaders are applauding a new state emphasis to address Florida’s opioid epidemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order to bolster efforts in subduing the state’s substance abuse crisis.

The order signed Tuesday will accomplish two tasks, one; re-establish an old office, and two; bring together some of the state’s brightest minds when it comes to controlling opioid use on a new task force.

DeSantis also announced that $26 million in additional federal funding has been awarded for Florida’s State Opioid Response Project. The project is designed “to address the opioid crisis by reducing opioid deaths, preventing opioid abuse among our young people, and increasing recovery services and access to treatment,” a release from his office states.

“Substance abuse is a serious public health concern and although great progress has been made, the opioid epidemic continues to devastate families and communities throughout our state,” said DeSantis in Sanford on Monday. “These issues require effective and immediate action and my administration is committed to taking the necessary steps to combat this crisis.”

In addition to the supplementary funding, DeSantis said he also is re-establishing the Office of Drug Control within the Executive Office of the Governor.

According to his office, this sector was discontinued years ago, but, “the importance of restoring its functions could not be more obvious.”

Lastly, the governor has sanctioned the creation of a Statewide Task Force on Opioid Drug Abuse. According to his office, “The Task Force will develop a statewide strategy and identify best practices to combat the opioid epidemic through education, treatment, prevention, recovery and law enforcement.”

“The opioid epidemic has taken far too many lives and devastated too many of our local communities,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who was alongside the governor as he announced the plan Monday. “Our administration is taking immediate action today to address this crisis through enforcement, prevention and recovery.”

Several officials joined DeSantis and Nunez in Sanford to reinforce the message.

“I want to thank Governor DeSantis for bringing federal, state and local governments and stakeholders together to fight the opioid crisis and save lives,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “As a former Federal Prosecutor and Circuit Judge, who saw firsthand how this crisis ravaged our communities, I am honored to help lead this mission. I look forward to bolstering our ongoing efforts against this deadly crisis claiming 17 lives a day in Florida.”

“We appreciate the support of the Governor and First Lady in the ongoing fight against the opioid epidemic in Florida and look forward to working with the task force,” said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell on Monday. “Too often, children come into care because of their parent’s opioid use. This $26 million, along with the significant investments already made, will further Florida’s ability to provide treatment, expand hospital bridge programs, and enhance coordination within the child welfare system to help the parents of vulnerable children.”

In Cape Coral, in 2018, there were 51 fatal overdoses, as well as 168 non-fatal.

Through February of this year, nine residents have fatally overdosed on opiates, with 29 incurring a non-fatal overdose.

Since 2015, the number of fatal opiate overdoses has risen from 17, to 29, to 41 to the 51 of 2018.

“The Cape Coral Police Department is and has always been a proponent for combating the opioid epidemic,” said CCPD spokesperson Master Sgt. Alan Kolak. “This is one of the reasons Chief (David) Newlan has initiated a partnership with starting the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Education program here in Southwest Florida.”

State Attorney for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, Amira Fox, also is supportive of DeSantis’ initiative.

“I am pleased with the details just announced by Governor DeSantis for Florida’s Opioid State Targeted Response Project,” she said. “Drug addiction is a serious problem that we see throughout Southwest Florida. This targeted response should help get to the root of the problem and help reduce the need for prosecution for some of those who are addicted. It is in line with the effective use of drug courts locally, to help people overcome the addiction that leads them to the criminal justice system.”

This is a prominent issue for Fox as well, who, following her being sworn in this past January, said, “We’re going to be going really hard after people who sell opioids. We’re sick and tired of watching people overdose and we’re not going to put up with it anymore. That’s going to be one of our top agenda items.”

In Lee County, 59 people died due to drug overdose in 2013. In 2017, 227 died, the eighth highest number per county in the state of Florida during that year, according to the Florida Department of Health.

In 2017, 4,908 died statewide as a result of drug overdose, compared to the 2,364 in 2013.

In 2018, 11,302,521 opioid prescriptions were dispensed in Florida according to FDOH – 383,590 in Lee County.

Deborah Comella, executive director at Lee County Coalition For A Drug-Free Southwest Florida, was encouraged by Monday’s announcement, made official Tuesday with the order’s signing.

“That he specifically mentioned prevention, we’re delighted to see that,” she said.

She said she also is encouraged by the work Lee County Schools is doing to combat the issue.

The coalition launched Operation Medicine Cabinet in ’09, an initiative to help safely dispose of all unused or expired medicine to better help the community and environment.

“The Lee County Sheriff’s Office began live drug collection events in 2009, and were one of the first law enforcement agencies in the country to provide this service to our citizens,” Comella said.

Residents can dispose of their unused prescriptions at a secure and anonymous lock box locations at each of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office locations, the Cape Coral Police Department, the Fort Myers Police Department and at two Walgreens locations – 805 Cape Coral Drive in Cape Coral and 12749 Cleveland Avenue in Fort Myers.

Comella said that 50.5 percent of people obtain opiates from a friend or family to start – though the harm may not be intentional.

She encourages everyone to lock up their medications in the household.

“We should be always talking to our children about positive health decisions,” she said.

For more information, visit www.drugfreeswfl.org.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj