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Rick Scott, Pam Bondi announce campaign targeting opioid crisis

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Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced an initiative against Florida’s “opioid crisis” Tuesday, calling upon the Legislature to help with tougher penalties and cracking down on sham “sober houses.”

But Scott stopped short of declaring an opioid state of emergency.

“We fought the pill mills, but now our challenge is bigger than ever,” Bondi said, flanked by representatives of sheriffs’, police, and fire departments, plus the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in the state Capitol.

Scott said he has directed the departments of Children and Families, Health, and Law Enforcement to hold a series of workshops in Palm Beach, Duval, Manatee, and Orange counties to share ideas about how to combat the opioid epidemic and seek federal grants.

“We’re hearing from people all across the state with their ideas. The goal with this to try to organize those ideas, to see if we can find out exactly some things that we can do to have an impact,” Scott said.

Scott has announced states of emergency over the Zika virus, hurricanes, and wildfires, but didn’t directly answer why he hasn’t for the opioid problem.

Bondi did supply an answer. Zika, fires, even hurricanes are short-term emergencies, she said.

“This is a national, ongoing, long-term epidemic, and that’s why we’re going to tackle this from a national level.”

Bondi — recently appointed to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis — called upon lawmakers to add fentanyl and other synthetic drugs to the drug trafficking statute, and to require certification of “sober homes” — “horrible places,” she said, where “addicts are taken in under the guise of getting the rehab that they need and further addicted to drugs.”

Bondi announced a deal with pharmaceutical companies to supply Narcan and Miloxone at reduced prices to state and local agencies, community organizations, and public hospitals.

She said the problem mainly concerns illicit opioids — not pharmaceutical-grade drugs. But it takes a lab test to tell the difference.

“We know these drugs are coming into our country from Asia. It’s heroin coming in, it’s fentanyl coming in, and it’s carfentanil coming in. They’re all mixed together. They’re mixing heroin, and now — who would have ever thought of this — in a pill form,” she said.

“Five people dropped dead in a three-day period in Pinellas County, and it was a Xanax pill that they thought they were buying for a couple of dollars off the street. And I wouldn’t be surprised if these dealers were putting it in Adderall pills, because that’s the pill of choice now among college students,” Bondi said.

“Kids don’t get it. Twenty-something-year-olds don’t get it. A lot of adults don’t get it. If you take one of these pills, you could be addicted for life or drop dead, because you don’t know what’s in them,” she continued.

“You need to tell your kids, if someone offers them a Tylenol at school and they don’t know them, don’t take a pill from anyone who you don’t know. And never take a prescription pill from anyone but a physician.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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