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First dose of opioid money favors Central Florida over South Florida

Two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Department of Health to declare a state of emergency over the opioid crisis, the promised $27 million in aid is starting to roll out.

First priorities: medical treatment for people addicted to heroin or other opioids, and naloxone to reverse overdoses.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, the agency charged with overseeing addiction treatment in Florida, announced Wednesday where this first influx of federal cash would go. Central Florida is the clear winner: The two agencies overseeing DCF spending in that part of the state are slated to get $8.7 million.

In South Florida, $2.2 million was awarded to the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, which includes Palm Beach County. Separately, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network, which serves Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, is receiving $1 million.

DCF said it is already buying 3,600 naloxone kits to distribute to three groups: local treatment centers statewide, organizations that have direct contact with people using opioids and “individuals who are at risk of witnessing or experiencing an overdose.”

The individuals and organizations weren’t identified.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, can reverse an overdose from heroin. The person is not out of the woods. He or she still needs emergency care, and if the heroin has been laced with fentanyl, it might take more than one dose of naloxone to keep the person alive.

But it’s been heralded as a lifesaver, and in the next 12 months, DCF plans to buy another 15,000 kits for local treatment centers.

The bulk of the federal money, though, will pay for medication assisted treatment: drugs such as Suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol, which curb cravings for heroin and opioids, helping people ease off the drug.

Of those, DCF appears most bullish on Vivitrol, which consists of a monthly injection, rather than other treatments’ daily doses or pills. About $3.8 million is set aside to pay for expanding that treatment.

And the perennially understaffed DCF is also hanging out the help wanted shingle: Ads are already posted on for behavioral health consultants and peer specialists.

The money behind all this is part of a comprehensive federal opioid addiction treatment bill financed by Congress in 2016.

Florida, like all states, was in line to get money. But Scott’s action earlier this month ensured the money could be used quickly.

The governor made his decision after weeks of repeated calls, led by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, for a public health emergency declaration. Such declarations, similar to the one signed by Scott to combat the Zika virus, frees the governor to release money from various sources.

Some are looking for a public health emergency declaration from Washington. Last month, Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, called on President Trump to direct the secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. As with Gov. Scott, such a declaration would allow Trump to free up federal treatment cash.

Ohio, like Florida, is among those states hardest hit, first by the prescription painkiller epidemic, and now by heroin.

Although Trump created an Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission in March — and appointed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to the panel — the White House budget also proposed essentially eliminating the Office of National Drug Control Policy, cutting its budget by 95 percent.

Nor is it clear what treatment finding HHS Secretary Price would seek should the president consider a declaration. Just last week, Price caused an uproar when he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that medication assisted treatment — the type of treatment getting $17 million of the grant money in Florida — is “substituting one opioid for another.” Instead, Price advocated “faith-based treatment.”

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