BRADENTON -- Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, took some time Saturday morning to talk to Bradenton residents about the heroin epidemic while touching upon national security, the economy and immigration.
Buchanan announced Friday he is co-sponsoring two federal bills aimed at combating the heroin epidemic in the United States.
Heroin was the main focus of the town hall meeting as Buchanan told a few dozen people gathered in the Manatee County Commission chambers it affects so many families.
"My nephew is struggling with this issue," Buchanan said. "It started with pain pills ... now he is probably on heroin."
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Dr. Richard Conard, event chairman of Florida-Remote Area Medical, thanked Buchanan for everything he does for Manatee County before asking a question.
"If we as a community decide we are not going to tolerate this, I think there is some initiatives we can consider doing," he said. "I am wondering if your bill is going to take into account if maybe some demonstrative programs in the nation with Manatee County being probably a good source, would be possible to source that sort of a demo program."
Buchanan answered by saying he likes town halls because it's where he gets good ideas, and he welcomed any suggestions on programs he could incorporate into the bills.
Buchanan said heroin hasn't been his focus, but it is now after listening to people at town hall meetings.
"I am finding out that this is a gigantic issue, that we just can't put in under the rug," Buchanan said. "We got to do something about it."
James Troxle of Bradenton asked Buchanan about the money leaving the economy to pay for drugs.
"Has there been any effort to get hands on that money rather than taking more money out of these people's pockets?" Troxle said. "That money is somewhere."
Buchanan said Troxle made
a good point.
"I think unfortunately, a lot of the money probably ends ups in South America, in the Panama banks or wherever they end up at," Buchanan said. "A lot of the money is probably here in the states at one point or another."
Buchanan said he thought law enforcement used those resources, but it isn't enough.
"We could look at that, to make sure we are taking that money because it's not their money and they are killing our kids and taking the money," Buchanan said. "We need to make sure we get all that money and we put it back into whatever prevention or mental or anything else."
Buchanan said more money is needed to deal with the heroin epidemic.
"When I talk to mental health people here or law enforcement, they don't have the capacity or resource to do what needs to be done," Buchanan said. "We don't have enough of those facilities here locally."
Someone else expressed concern about foreign aid.
"Why do we send money to countries that hate us?" Buchanan was asked.
The United States spends roughly $55 billion annually on foreign aid.
"I think it should be a lot less," Buchanan said. "We can't eliminate it all ... but it can be cut substantially."
Buchanan used the $2 billion sent to Egypt as an example.
"We can't be the world's policeman," Buchanan said.
Andy Anderson of Hudson and Dearborn, Mich., an old family friend of Buchanan, expressed concern about the homeless.
"They started from the (Veterans Affairs) system," Buchanan said. "We need to do more in the homeless area because a lot of it started with the VA system giving it to them."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.