Calls are mounting for Gov. Rick Scott to declare of public health emergency in the wake of an estimated 4,000 deaths in Florida last year due to heroin and opioid overdoses.
Other states struggling with the problem - including Maryland, Alaska, and Virginia - have chosen to declare an emergency, enabling the release of additional funds for law enforcement and treatment.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is at the forefront of the opioid battle. He heads the Sober Home Task Force, a panel created by the Florida Legislature last year to make recommendations toward cleaning up corruption in the sober home industry.
“We've been successful in making 21 arrests, shutting down a number of sober homes because there are people here who no longer want to engage in patient brokering and create these flophouses that have led to so many deaths,” says Aronberg.
A bill cracking down on sober home corruption is also moving through the Florida Legislature. But people close to the problem want more. “We want the governor to know what we're doing - the success we've had - and to discuss the possibility of a declaration of a state of emergency because to really fix this problem it's going to take a team effort,” says Aronberg.
Scott has been quick to declare emergencies for incoming tropical systems and wildfires. Last year, with fewer than a dozen reported cases of the zika virus, he declared a public health emergency in four counties. He also declared an emergency in 2011 to fight pill mill clinics.
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, sent the governor a letter two months ago requesting action against the opioid epidemic.
“When I wrote the letter, I fully believed that he would declare a state of emergency because I thought that the circumstances existed if I look back at all of his other state of emergencies,” Braynon says. “The issue of opioids has been something that has caused death, has caused families to be separated, has caused a health crisis in our emergency rooms, a health crisis with our first responders. These are things that we think are a health crisis versus being a drug crisis.”
For now, Scott has opted for public workshops in four cities May 1-3. The Governor’s Office sent us this statement:
“The Governor is focused on the upcoming community workshops and knows they are an important starting point in the fight against opioid use. These workshops will provide opportunities for the state to directly hear from communities on their specific needs as well as provide information on existing resources, best practices, and grant opportunities.
The Governor remains committed to continue working with our federal, state and local partners on this important national issue. (On April 19th) Governor Scott thanked HHS Secretary Price for making federal funding available to help fight opioid abuse.”