DESTIN, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis, and a group of state officials spoke in Destin about strategies to fight the opioid crisis. He announced a multi-hundred million settlement fund from opioid lawsuits would be used to expand state recovery programs for drug intervention and abuse treatment.
Talking about fentanyl and other opioid deaths, DeSantis said the administration of President Joe Biden had done little to fight the issue.
DeSantis said Florida was building upon efforts started in August for a coordinated system of care in dealing with the opioid crisis. He said Friday’s announcement would include the launch of mobile response teams. The program was test piloted in 12 counties, according to DeSantis, involving coordination between local communities and state agencies.
The governor mentioned that in several lawsuits across the U.S. against opioid manufacturers, where the companies had lost and had to pay billions of dollars in settlements due to the companies knowing the drugs were highly addictive, costing “many, many lives,” and hurting families and communities.
Florida received $205.7 million in the settlements, which DeSantis said would be put toward treating and preventing substance abuse in the state. The funds would be split between prevention, treatment, recovery and peer support, and integration of data for evaluating the program’s success. He said it would examine impacts on crime, treatment, and adverse events related to overdoses.
“The opioid settlement, in addition to what we’re doing with the $205.7 million, also gives $135.4 million directly to local communities,” DeSantis said.
He added that the communities would be able to use the settlement to make a difference. The expansion of the CORE network will spread to an additional 17 counties from the current set.
“The pilot program expansion last year, and since that time with the CORE network, we’ve serviced and evaluated 2,682 individuals, for opioid use disorder,” DeSantis said. “The network has a retention rate of 70% and averages a relapse rate of 2%, so that’s pretty good.”
DeSantis said there was also a statewide access network online for addiction care even outside of the pilot program’s territories. Any Floridian in need is eligible, according to the governor.
A video about the opioid crisis was played at the event, highlighting those in recovery and the different risks of the drugs for Florida residents. Among those in the video was Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, talking about fentanyl and how it had been laced into other drug products.
After the video, First Lady Casey DeSantis spoke about efforts she’s involved with or leading to protect Florida families from the dangers of fentanyl. She highlighted the “The Facts, Your Future” program for Florida’s children to be “empowered” to know about the drug epidemic and how to stay safe.
She, like the governor, said the border crisis in the southern United States was particularly dangerous with how much fentanyl had come into America through the area. Ms. DeSantis also said the programs would not be restricted to fentanyl, but would also include information on other drugs such as Xanax, methamphetamine, high-concentration THC such as in marijuana products, among other related issues and topics.
After the First Lady, Department of Health Deputy Secretary of Health Kenneth Scheppke spoke, saying Florida, and the country, were nearing what he called an inflection point in the opioid crisis. He said Florida’s program was intended and focused on not only assisting with drug addiction but the various medical conditions and diseases that were associated with it, including hepatitis and HIV.
Under the program, “EMS will arrive, with specialized training and protocols, take you to not just any ER but an ER where staff specialize with this disease,” Scheppke said. “With multiple specialties, peer support, and they’ll manage whatever co-morbidities you have. Maybe mental health problems, hepatitis, which we can cure now, maybe HIV. And when you’re done being stabilized, they don’t just tell you to follow up somewhere, they’ll help you navigate through a system of care.”
Scheppke said the program would have individualized care plans, because “we don’t just treat diseases, we prevent diseases as well.”
Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris spoke after several guests who had been directly impacted by the opioid crisis.
She thanked the governor and First Lady for their advocacy and multi-pronged strategy for fighting the opioid epidemic, particularly with how they had “recognized the magnitude of the epidemic,” but also “helped eliminate the stigma that has historically kept individuals from seeking care.”
Harris was followed by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who spoke to the state’s efforts in fighting the fentanyl crisis and work to raise awareness of mental health issues and treatment. Patronis thanked the governor for his efforts, then said that he held the belief that someone dealing fentanyl should be charged with attempted murder.
The CFO continued, praising work done by Florida leaders to recruit more law enforcement officers and first responders, and how the governor approached issues by working to “prevent problems” rather than solve them after they start.
He described situations in the drug crisis as unfortunate due to “an uncooperative administration in Washington,” saying he agreed that common sense solutions were becoming less common. Patronis said Florida was “fighting against the status quo” and “questioning absurdity.”