Republican candidate for governor Jack Latvala, who’s been aggressive in saying that Florida needs to do more to deal with the exploding opioid epidemic, on Monday called on Gov. Rick Scott to fund another $20 million to address the problem.
Latvala, a Clearwater state senator and Appropriations Committee chair, also is calling on Scott to immediately extend the executive order he originally signed in May, declaring the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency in Florida.
That request allowed the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant. That funding has been used to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support services, but is expected to expire within the next week.
“There have been reports that suggest 14 Floridians have died every day in the first half of this year due to opioids, which is higher than the number of Floridians we have lost per day at the height of the pill mill crisis,” Latvala wrote in his letter. “If this trend continues, by the time the Legislature passes a budget in March 2018, over 2,700 more Floridians could die. Florida’s citizens cannot wait until then for more financial resources to combat this public health crisis.”
Latvala participated in a three-hour discussion in Palm Beach County earlier this month regarding the opioid crisis, where he notes in his letter to Scott that he heard from longtime health officials that said that they have never experienced a crisis of this magnitude.
“The opioid crisis presents an existential threat to the people of our state as entire generations quickly being lost, or unable to meaningfully contribute as productive members of our society and economy,” Latvala writes.
The longtime legislator breaks down his $20 million request for funding into five different categories: He says $9 million should be allocated for residential treatment; $5 million for detox services; $3 million for outpatient treatment and recovery support; $2.4 million for prevention and $600,000 in specialized services.
“I think the sheer number of people that came to talk about this issue for a guy from Pinellas County where this is really not that big of an issue, it was stunning to me that there were that many people – the magnitude of the calls to the fire department, the involvement of the Sheriff’s department, just the whole community seems to be zeroing in on trying to solve this problem, so I think the state should do our part to try to solve it with the community,” Latvala told reporters after the hearing in Palm Beach County, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Senate President Joe Negron, GOP state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader of Boca Raton joined Latvala in that listening session in Palm Beach County earlier this month.
At a press conference in Tampa last month featuring Congresswoman Kathy Castor, health officials blasted the Legislature, saying that in the face of the opioid crisis, the state actually cut funding for mental health and substance abuse.
Florida ranks virtually last in the nation in spending on mental health and substance abuse, Rutherford said those on the ground fighting the epidemic needs more help from the Legislature.
Latvala officially announced his candidacy for governor two weeks ago.
“Governor Scott has been working with legislative leaders on further ways to help families who are struggling with addiction during the upcoming legislative session,” responded Lauren Schenone, a spokesperson for Scott. “Governor Scott will be announcing his legislative package to fight this national epidemic in the coming weeks, which will include significant increases of funding. We are hopeful the Legislature will support the Governor’s proposal. The Governor has been extremely focused on this issue and declared a public health emergency in May which provided $27 million in federal funds. This public health emergency was already extended today. Governor Scott has also made it easier for law enforcement to combat this epidemic.
Governor Scott appreciates the members of the Florida House and Senate for their focus on the national opioid epidemic.”