One familiar face popped up in the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday with leaders in the battle against opioid addiction to discuss funding issues.
Centerstone of Florida CEO Melissa Larkin-Skinner stood before the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee asking the state to allocate funding for substance use disorder prevention and treatment.
She relied on her experiences at Centerstone and 25 years in the behavioral health business to point out why money is needed for prevention and treatment efforts as Florida is in the grips of an opioid epidemic.
“I’ve never seen anything wreak havoc as much as the opioid epidemic,” Larkin-Skinner told committee members.
However, she said she was grateful for the opportunity to shine a “bright light” on the subject.
She touched on the effect the crisis is having on families, the workforce and how important prevention and treatment will be to overcoming the epidemic.
Larkin-Skinner pointed to Manatee County, where in 2015 the county led the state in per-capita deaths where the medical examiner found a presence of heroin, fentanyl, morphine or cocaine.
In the first half of 2017, Narcan — a brand name for naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — had already been administered 1,440 times by Manatee County EMS. In 2016, officials administered naloxone 2,521 times.
Larkin-Skinner said one type of treatment to help those in the grips of addiction is not enough.
“Addiction is a disease, and like others ... a combination of prevention and treatment are needed to combat the epidemic,” Larkin-Skinner said. “In the real world, we need different types of treatment.”
The demand for treatment they are experiencing, Larkin-Skinner said, is unprecedented.
She said one treatment doesn’t work for everyone and that everyone needs access to the entire continuum to find what works for them.
Larkin-Skinner also advocated that Medication-Assisted Treatment must be available to everyone at every stage of recovery.
“Treatment works, recovery is possible,” Larkin-Skinner said.
But prevention is the other important key in fighting the epidemic, she noted.
Larkin-Skinner pointed to studies that she said show evidence-based prevention curriculum would be useful in schools to educate and keep children from trying the drugs.
Children also suffer greatly in the course of the epidemic. The number of Manatee County children under state supervision has more than doubled in the past three years, according to a news release from Centerstone.
In the release and in her address to the committee, Larkin-Skinner also noted that last year, 17 parents died due to opioid overdoes or medical issues related to drug use. She said it is a significant increase from the one or two deaths in previous years.
As adults die from overdoses and other addiction-related issues, the workforce is also dwindling, Larkin-Skinner told committee members.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
“We are in the midst of a devastating public health crisis,” said Larkin-Skinner in a news release prior to her appearance at the committee meeting. “At Centerstone, we see firsthand the impact of the opioid crisis every day and the ripple effect it is having on individuals, families, and our communities. Increased use of opioids and overdoses in Florida have created financial burden for local governments, first responders, and treatment providers; and have caused tremendous emotional burden for families. Without continued support for addiction treatment services, we are endangering the health and wellbeing of our state and every person who lives here.”
In August, President Donald Trump announced the opioid crisis was a “national emergency,” even calling it “a serious problem the likes of which we have never had,” the New York Times reported.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I’m saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency,” the president said at the time, according to the New York Times. “We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
However, two months later, still no official emergency declaration.
Additional speakers at the Appropriations Committee hearing included: Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network CEO Ann Berner, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford, Saluscare CEO Stacey Cook Hawk and Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office CEO Mary Lynn Ulrey.