LAKEWOOD RANCH-- Manatee state lawmakers heard from their constituents Monday on school funding, elderly care, medical marijuana and more. But the topic that kept coming up: substance abuse and the area's heroin epidemic.
The heroin epidemic has been labeled a significant issue that requires state legislators' attention by the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition; the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network; and Centerstone Florida. The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Manatee County and the National Association of Social
Workers also brought up increased substance abuse as a significant issue.
The fight, some say, demands more money.
"We have to get a handle on this," said Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. He has spoken with hospital officials who are dealing with about 10 overdoses every day. "It's destroying kids, it's destroying families, it's destroying adults."
Boyd was joined by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, for Monday's legislative delegation meeting at the State College of Florida's Lakewood Ranch campus. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was in meetings on redistricting in Tallahassee.
Steube, who chaired the event, said he would gladly look into co-sponsoring any legislation that could help deal with the epidemic.
There were a few suggestions on the best way the state could help with the substance abuse problem.
Jessica Spencer, with the Substance Abuse Coalition, said research shows the best ways to combat opioid abuse, which includes heroin and prescription painkillers, are promoting knowledge of the Good Samaritan Act, which protects people who act in good faith in rendering emergency care or treatment in a medical emergency; increased use of naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of an overdose and saves victims almost instantly; and the responsible prescribing of legal painkillers.
"Our physicians are not equipped for this," Spencer told the delegation, adding that most doctors are not required to take any training on substance abuse, though those same doctors can prescribe opioids.
Mary Ruiz, CEO of Centerstone Florida, formerly known as Manatee Glens and a major treatment center in Manatee, said the failure to solve the issue comes down to funding. Additional funding to treatment centers, she said, can't wait.
"Florida is in crisis, itself, and it's losing its ability to address this crisis," she said. "I don't think the people of Florida can wait another year."
Linda McKinnon, president and CEO of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, said mental health and substance abuse treatment funding in the state is hitting record lows when adjusted for inflation, with only $18 in per capita spending in 2013, down from $25 in 2000. Between 2000 and 2013, the population in Florida increased by 18 percent.
"We desperately need more funding," McKinnon said.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.