State Politics

Declare opioid crisis a public health emergency, Senate Democrats tell Gov. Rick Scott

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, speaks about Democrats’ objectives during a pre-legislative news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, speaks about Democrats’ objectives during a pre-legislative news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

Florida Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the growing opioid epidemic in the state.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday.

“There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it,” Braynon added.

MORE: Read Braynon’s letter to Scott

Citing “recent news reports” based on Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, Braynon wrote that the number of heroin deaths in Florida rose nearly 80 percent from 2014 to 2015, while the number of fentanyl deaths rose 77 percent in the same time.

He noted that a year ago it took “just nine” confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Florida before Scott signed an executive order directing then-State Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong to declare a public health emergency in the affected counties, which included Miami-Dade.

“This emergency will not end without our intervention and resources,” Braynon wrote on behalf of the Democrats’ 15-member Senate caucus. “I strongly urge you to take this first step and launch the response our state is still lacking.”

Florida law technically vests the responsibility of declaring a public health emergency with the state health officer, not the governor. The state health officer is Dr. Celeste Philip, the surgeon general.

Scott’s office did not say Monday evening whether an emergency declaration might be forthcoming, but spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an email that Philip and Mike Carroll, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, “are scheduled to meet with [Senator Braynon] to hear his input on the subject.”

For Scott’s part, Schenone noted that his recommended budget to the Legislature for next year includes $4 million for the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council. Of that, $2 million would provide financial assistance to local law enforcement investigating cases of heroin abuse. (It’s up to lawmakers to decide whether they include Scott’s recommendations in the budget they approve.)

“Governor Scott wants to ensure local communities have the resources they need to respond to this critical issue,” Schenone said.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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