Editorials

Scott right to step up opioid fight

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a news conference in Tallahassee to declare a state of emergency over the state’s opioid crisis.
Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a news conference in Tallahassee to declare a state of emergency over the state’s opioid crisis. AP

It’s unusual to hear Gov. Rick Scott declare a state of emergency in Florida for something other than an act of nature — a hurricane, Zika, runaway wildfires.

But on Wednesday, in light of thousands of overdose deaths in the state — many in Miami-Dade — Scott issued an executive order declaring that the man-made opioid epidemic has indeed created a state of emergency in Florida.

We praise Scott for stepping in to curb this human tragedy. He did the right thing in declaring it a statewide emergency — because it truly is.

You might not see it on your block, but ask paramedics, medical examiners or funeral home employees in just about any county, and they’ll tell you that the overdoses and, sadly, the bodies are piling up.

The governor was likely hearing the clarion call from Democrats in the Florida Senate who in a February letter urged him to act and declare a public-health emergency over the growing opioid crisis.

They were right to be alarmed by recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, showing 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.

In 2015, the last year for which data is available, opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 Floridians and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths, according to FDLE data compiled by the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation,” Sen. Oscar Braynon II, Senate minority leader, of Miami Gardens, wrote to Scott on behalf of the Democrats’ 15-member Senate caucus. “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.” A most responsible move.

Scott did not issue the emergency then, but directed state health and law enforcement agencies last month to travel the state in search of solutions to the opioid epidemic.

It was a tepid first reaction — we have been in the grips of this problem for a good four years. Fortunately, Scott added muscle to his response, and on Wednesday declared the epidemic an emergency.

This allows him to direct immediate spending to target and combat the problem and allow public health officials to move in quickly.

And that’s the key to ending this crisis likely created by the eradication of pill mills in Florida.

Now, will Florida effectively spend the big bag of money that comes with the emergency order to wipe out this scourge?

The declaration allows the state to funnel more than $54 million in federal funds, via an Opioid State Targeted Response grant from the U.S. Health and Human Services over the next two years for prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

How efficiently that money is spent is imperative to wiping out this epidemic.

Scott instructed state Surgeon General Celeste Philip to keep on hand a standing order of Naloxen or Narcan, used to counteract opioid overdoses by first responders in emergency situations. More lives stand to be saved.

Of course, substance-abuse clinics, pain-reduction and mental health treatment must also be available if the lives of those saved are to have any higher quality to them.

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