POINT OF VIEW: Florida must step up the war on opioids

Aug 12, 2017

Another life was recently taken by opioids. Unlike most other victims, this one was a 10-year-old boy. Just like any bright summer day, Alton walked to his community’s pool to play with his friends. After returning home, he immediately became violently sick, vomiting and losing consciousness. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Fentanyl was found in his system.

This young boy did not take drugs; authorities believe he was momentarily exposed to fentanyl at the pool or on his way home. Fentanyl is so dangerous that the police have been trained to avoid all contact with it. It can cause death if touched and severe sickness if inhaled.

Over the years, Florida has strengthened laws to fight prescription opioid abuse, but as a result, the usage of heroin, fentanyl, and other deadly synthetics skyrocketed. People who were addicted to opioids prior to the pill mill crackdown turned to deadlier options once prescription opioids became harder to obtain.

Here in Palm Beach County, we’ve see some of the worst devastation from opioids. In 2012, our county saw 143 deaths due to opioid overdoses and in 2016 that number rose to 569.

Countless individual lives and entire families have been destroyed. This is a problem that kills more people each day than guns and car accidents.

We often hear opposition to calls for increasing state funding. The most common is that, “throwing money at a problem won’t fix it.” In this case, that is simply not true. Counties like Palm Beach have plans to combat the crisis. But the situation has put a strain on their law enforcement, first responders, and hospital staff. They need additional help to continue the battle.

The reality is that more funding is desperately needed for prevention and treatment for Floridians who are addicted to opioids. In a state ranked last in mental health funding, how can there be a cut of more than $8 million from funds dedicated to mental health crisis centers? Crisis centers serve as alternatives to emergency rooms for people who need mental health care. Despite the additional federal funds that have only recently been made available once the crisis had been declared an emergency, Floridians need more.

Several bills passed this session are helping. My colleague state Rep. Nick Duran, D-Miami, ran a bill to give doctors tools to identify people abusing the prescription system. A law imposing strong mandatory minimum prison sentences for trafficking fentanyl or carfentanil was also passed. Other attempts have been made, but this is an evolving problem.

We must hold those who sell drugs accountable, but this is an addiction problem. We won’t solve this by solely focusing on sending dealers to jail. This is an issue that we have to combat on multiple fronts. We need treatment-based solutions.

More education, prevention services, and treatment centers are crucial if we want to make real strides in fighting the grip opioids have on people unfortunate enough to be addicted. We cannot continue to let our fellow Floridians die. It’s imperative that we act immediately to provide the resources necessary to wage war effectively against the opioid epidemic.

LORI BERMAN, LANTANA

Editor’s note: Berman represents District 90 in the Florida Legislature.