Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order Wednesday declaring a public health emergency in Florida due to the opioid epidemic, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated the epidemic was nationwide.
The emergency order will allow the state to immediately receive more than $27 million in federal funding awarded Florida April 21 under the 21st Century Cures Act to fight the epidemic.
The announcement comes a day after state officials met with local leaders in Palmetto as part of a series of state-directed workshops to discuss the needs of Manatee, Palm Beach, Orange and Duval counties.
“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up,” Scott said in a press release. “The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help.”
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Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells applauded Scott for declaring an emergency.
“We have been fighting this for a long time, without any help, and we are very fortunate that the governor has seen that,” Wells said.
Manatee County has been at the epicenter of the epidemic since heroin overdoses first began to spiral out of control in 2014.
“For us, this is not an issue we can arrest our way out of,” Wells said. “It has never been.”
Stocking the sheriff’s office with a large enough supply of Narcan, the brand name of naloxone — the opioid overdose antidote —so that every deputy has the antidote in their vehicle will be the first way federal money will be used, Wells said. Scott also directed Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to issue a standing order for naloxone, which allows licensed pharmacists in Florida in an active pharmacy to dispense naloxone to emergency responders.
One of the many changes in fighting the heroin epidemic is that law enforcement is often the first to arrive on scene when heroin users are overdosing.
“We are getting there first, and having to start live-saving measures,” Wells said. “Narcan will help us make sure we can save even more lives.”
Wells said once the sheriff’s office has confirmation of the money they will receive through the federal grant program, he will meet with staff to determine how else the funds will best be used.
The sheriff believes a three-prong approach is essential to fight this epidemic: education, treatment and enforcement. Education is something Manatee County is lacking, and Wells said that education needs to start with the youngest county residents. Treatment needs to be properly funded so that Centerstone and other local providers can serve all those suffering with addiction. Lastly, enforcement comes in at the back side, he said.
Centerstone CEO Melissa Larkin-Skinner echoed Wells’ praise.
“I think folks in some of the hardest hit places (would say) it would have helped a year ago,” she said. “I’m grateful, and I think everyone will be grateful now.”
Larkin-Skinner identified some areas of need should Centerstone receive funding: more access to medication assisted treatment, more “peers” with lived experience to help addicts, increased community engagement and more beds.
“We would use it basically for our entire continuum of care,” she said. “We want to be all things to all people.”