- Christine Sexton News Service of Florida
Two Democratic senators are pushing to increase by $25 million the amount of funding the Senate has committed to addressing the state’s opioid problems in the upcoming year.
Sen. Kevin Rader praised Senate leaders for proposing to spend $100 million on mental-health services and school-safety programs in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week that left 17 people dead. But he said they also need to put more money into a plan to curb the opioid epidemic.
“It looks like we are finding a lot of mental health funding, and that’s great. And I absolutely, completely support it and it’s much needed,” said Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat whose district includes Parkland, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High is located. “I hope in the next two weeks …. we can really put the money into the opioid funding to take an enormous bite out of this apple and really help Floridians who need it.”
Rader’s remarks came as the Legislature enters the last two weeks of the annual legislative session and prepares to go into budget negotiations. The Senate is earmarking about $53 million for a variety of programs for opioid treatment, outpatient care and case management, medically assisted treatment, and naloxone for emergency responders.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Thursday he has spent “a long time talking” with Rader and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, about the opioid epidemic, and he thinks the Legislature ultimately will increase funding from the current levels.
Rader is working closely with Rouson, who has drafted a plan that directs funding to a number of different areas. They include spending $2 million on an additional seven “bridge programs” between hospital emergency departments and community-based opioid programs, spending $2.9 million for evidence-based prevention and launching a statewide media campaign, similar to the state’s effective anti-smoking campaign.
The four-page draft obtained by The News Service of Florida contains handwritten notes with numbers by each of the ideas. The proposal marked No 1 is a request to increase funding to managing entities, which have contracts with the state to coordinate care regionally, by $3.1 million to provide housing options for people who suffer from both mental health and addiction issues and are frequently jailed or require emergency room services.
The proposal does not include additional funding beyond what already is targeted for medication-assisted treatment programs. Negron though, indicated that he would direct additional dollars toward medication-assisted treatment.
“I want to make sure the prevention is directly related to tangible items that we can measure rather than just diffuse dissemination of information, which I don’t think is effective,” Negron said.
Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017 declared a state of emergency due to the opioid crisis, fueled by an increasing number of deaths associated with the drugs. A state report shows that in 2016, Florida had 952 heroin deaths, 1,390 fentanyl-related deaths, 723 oxycodone-caused deaths and 245 hydrocodone-related deaths.
To try to address the issues, the House and Senate are considering bills (HB 21 and SB 8) that would limit physicians’ abilities to prescribe opioids. Also, the state Medicaid program announced last week that it is limiting prescriptions for narcotics to a maximum seven-day supply, unless a physician determines it is medically necessary to increase the prescription.
During a discussion in a Senate committee, Rader reminded Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami, that she acknowledged earlier the Senate hasn’t gone far enough in its recommendations for the upcoming year.
“You said, and I didn’t put words in your mouth, that this is ‘woefully underfunded and needed hundreds of millions of dollars of help as well,’ “ Rader said to Flores during a Wednesday meeting. “We just can’t keep the eye off the ball.”