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Aronberg wants to speak with Scott about opioid emergency


Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg has joined a growing list of officials trying to get Gov. Rick Scott to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Aronberg, as head of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force, sent a letter on Thursday to Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, asking her to contact the state surgeon general to arrange a meeting with Scott.

“To put this ongoing epidemic in perspective, the 2016 opioid overdose death toll in Florida should far exceed the tragedies of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor,” Aronberg wrote in the letter, which was distributed at a meeting of the Sober Home Task Force on Friday.

Aronberg’s request to Alonso came two days after the Palm Beach County Commission held a special meeting on the opioid crisis and voted unanimously to make a similar request of the governor.

After that meeting, Alonso vowed to send a letter to the governor the next day, asking for him to declare a public health emergency. By Friday, she had not written the letter, adding that she was having trouble wording such a request.

Alonso, who rarely attends meetings of the county’s sober home and heroin task forces, sat through the three-hour meeting on Friday but said nothing about Aronberg’s request. After the meeting, she said she supported Aronberg’s strategy for bringing the issue to the governor.

Local efforts to persuade Scott to declare a public health emergency began in February, when County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay sent a letter to Scott. McKinlay, who was deeply touched by the overdose death of the daughter of her then-chief aide, said such a declaration “would not only help raise awareness of the epidemic, but it would expand options to combat it.”

Two weeks later, Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus joined the effort to persuade Scott to declare a public health emergency.

On March 17, Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath joined the letter-writing campaign, urging Scott to make a declaration of a public health emergency to help “marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”

Governors in other states have declared public health emergencies.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in 2014, which gave him emergency powers to expand access to naloxone, also known as Narcan — a drug that revives an overdosing addict.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s declaration allowed Virginians to obtain naloxone without a prescription and created increased urgency and public awareness of the epidemic.

In Ohio, which leads the nation in opioid deaths, pressure has been intense for Gov. John Kasich to declare a public health emergency. However, there is no specific authority under Ohio law that allows him to do so, according to Kasich’s press secretary.

Florida law allows the state’s surgeon general to declare a public health emergency due to infectious diseases, chemical or nuclear agents, biological toxins, mass casualties or natural disasters.

In 2011, when the OxyContin “pill mill” epidemic was at its peak, lawmakers passed a bill declaring a public health emergency — which Scott signed. In February 2016, Scott and state health officials declared a public health emergency for Zika, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause serious neurological birth defects.

Appearing with Alonso on March 30 at a news conference on Zika at the Palm Beach County Health Department, Scott made his first public comments about requests to declare a public health emergency for the opioid crisis.

“I’m still reviewing it,” he said.



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