Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Friday he is co-sponsoring two federal bills aimed at combating the heroin epidemic in the U.S.
Buchanan said his goal is to enact meaningful legislation to stem the flow of drugs into America while at the same time intensifying education, prevention and treatment programs. He is one of 88 bipartisan co-sponsors of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and one of eight bipartisan co-sponsors of the STOP ABUSE Act. Neither has been acted upon by the House nor Senate in 2016.
"Drug addiction is a growing crisis that destroys families and lives every day here in Florida," Buchanan said. "It requires a serious and comprehensive solution."
Riley Ploch, digital communications director for Buchanan's office, said they expect the two bills should see more action soon.
"The reason the congressman selected these two bills out of many on the topic is we're expecting movement on them soon, particularly on the Senate side," Ploch said.
Buchanan cited statistics that say heroin overdose deaths increased by 900 percent in Florida between 2010 and 2014, from 48 to 447. In Manatee and Sarasota counties, the medical examiner's office said there were more than 150 overdose deaths in 2015.
The two bills try to address the epidemic by doing the following:
Provide funding for state, local, and non-profit drug education efforts for teens and seniors.
Provide grants for treatment and prevention to states, nonprofits, and municipalities.
Establish a federal task force to develop best practices for pain medication.
Create new veterans-specific drug treatment courts.
Reauthorize High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Grants, which coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement anti-drug trafficking efforts in specific, high-risk counties. Twenty-one Florida counties were designated as HIDTAs by the Office of National Drug Control Policy last year.
"The growing heroin addiction epidemic has touched far too many people and overwhelmed our local emergency rooms and law enforcement agencies," Buchanan said. "We can't turn a blind eye to this emergency as we lose more of our loved ones and heroin continues to flood our ports and the Southern border. It's clear Congress must take swift action to counter this public health crisis."
Manatee and Sarasota officials voiced support for both pieces of federal legislation. They included Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, Sarasota Sheriff Thomas Knight, Drug Free Manatee Director Sharon Kramer, Drug Free Manatee's Jessica Spencer and MAry Ruiz, CEO of Centerstone Florida.
"Centerstone is on the front lines battling life-threatening addictions and we are greatly encouraged by Congressman Buchanan's leadership in cosponsoring legislation to advance treatment for heroin and pain pill abuse," Ruiz said. "Families touched by this epidemic have a champion in Congressman Buchanan."
Steube and other law enforcement officials in Manatee announced last week that deaths due to heroin and opioid overdoses are decreasing in the area, which they say is partially due to increased heroin trafficking arrests as part of a long-term investigation started in September 2014.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby