ROCKLEDGE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Space Coast Health Foundation in Rockledge. Signage at the event read “Ending Addiction.” The event was focused on drug addiction and overdose deaths. During the event, DeSantis announced a new state-operated program for treating substance use disorder and helping families “break free” from the cycle of addiction.

Based on video played at the event, the topic was focused more specifically on fentanyl, substance use disorder, and how Americans are being harmed. The state was announcing a “network of addiction care” for “Coordinated Opioid Recovery.”

To kick off the event, DeSantis talked about how he was grateful to have Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo in Florida, as having a “surgeon general who actually understand medical evidence and data and is going to tell you the truth and not going to pull the wool over your eyes.”

DeSantis compared Ladapo to federal health officials, saying that Ladapo had been right about mRNA vaccines and COVID-19 response, and highlighting how Florida had prioritized protecting jobs rather than forcing people out over vaccination status.

The governor also spoke about Florida’s efforts to secure monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 patients, and how residents of other states had reportedly thanked him for bringing attention to the option through his press conferences. He thanked Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Kenneth Scheppke for his work related to that subject and helping Floridians.

After introducing Shevaun Harris, the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, DeSantis mentioned the state’s position on transgender medical treatment and gender dysphoria.

“One of the things they’re trying to do,” DeSantis said about other parts of the U.S., “is they talk about these very young kids getting ‘gender affirming care,’ but they don’t really tell you what that is. They are actually giving very young girls double mastectomies, they want to castrate these young boys, that’s wrong. We stood up and said, from the health and children’s well-being perspective, you don’t disfigure 10, 12, 13-year-old kids based on gender dysphoria.”

DeSantis said 80% of the issues “resolve themselves” by the time the children are older and said doctors who participate in these methods of care should be sued. Shortly after, DeSantis introduced a variety of other speakers, including state and federal lawmakers from Florida in the Brevard area, where the event was taking place. Then, DeSantis got to the topic of the event, overdose deaths in Florida. He tied the drug problems affecting the state to border security in the U.S.

He said illegal immigration was a political issue, saying that “they’re fine doing it when it’s affecting people they don’t like, like red states for example,” saying the federal government was more reactive when the “sheer volume” of immigrants coming illegally affected areas like New York or the District of Columbia.

“You have these issues, but what you also have is this has been a huge increase in sex trafficking, human trafficking, particularly against very young, vulnerable people, and it’s been an absolute boon to the Mexican drug cartels,” DeSantis said. “Because they are moving so much product across the southern border, like they’ve never been able to do before. You look at something like fentanyl, China is making it, and then they’re bringing it through Mexico through the southern border in the United States.”

DeSantis asked why the U.S. government wasn’t holding China accountable for it.

“They did all of this with COVID, they lied about COVID, they’re doing all of this stuff with fentanyl, they’re a major major problem, but yet we know that they want to get fentanyl into the United States,” DeSantis said. “We know the easiest way for them to do that is through the southern border, and what is happening? They’re letting it come in, effectively, with these disastrous policies. So now, in the United States, and this was not true even five years ago, the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 45, is fentanyl.”

DeSantis pointed to Florida specifically, where he said there were already over 2,000 fatal overdoses among Florida residents. He said the issue was affecting communities all across the U.S. and drew his criticism to how some media outlets had covered Florida’s concern over the border crisis.

“I sent people to help Texas on the border,” DeSantis said. “And the media said ‘Oh you’re not a border state, what do you care about it?’ Well yes, everybody is affected by this. It’s not just limited to the Rio Grande communities. Or communities in Arizona. It’s affecting everybody, and affecting people in a lot of different ways.”

DeSantis said the spike in fatal fentanyl overdoses was much higher than any other drug. He said the synthetic opioid was being laced into less dangerous drugs, leading to “major major episodes.” The governor said the amount of fentanyl needed to kill everyone present at the event would be as much as you can hold in one handful, saying the narcotics, particularly fentanyl, was dangerous and ruined families.

The governor highlighted the state’s “The Facts, Your Future,” drug response program spearheaded by First Lady Casey DeSantis and how it helped residents and Florida youths see how drugs would see the dangers of substance abuse firsthand while encouraging healthier lifestyles.

“This is something that has massive impacts on families, on individuals, on communities, on states, and on our country and we need to do everything we can to fight back against it,” DeSantis said. “And yes, that means doing things like being strong on illegal immigration.”

The governor said despite the fact that he didn’t have control over that as Florida’s leader, and how he wished “we had better leadership that would take it more seriously.” Then he said that recent legislation was signed into law to add penalties for fentanyl analogues, which he said was killing people. “We’re going to treat you with the severity that deserves, and you’re going to jail for a long time,” DeSantis said, saying that the state would be going after the dealers on the streets and holding them accountable.

He said an important part of the issue was breaking the cycle of addiction, and that Florida’s government wanted to help residents break free from that cycle of drug abuse and harm.

“We are announcing a massive expansion of a first of its kind model of care for substance use disorder, coordinated opioid recovery, a network of addiction care,” DeSantis said. “We’re calling it the CORE network, and it’s a coordinated effort between the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Families.” The governor said the model had been tested out in Palm Beach County and would now be expanded to a larger pilot program in 12 counties.

DeSantis then announced a new state administration position, the first statewide Director of Opioid Recovery. Dr. Courtney Phillips, of Palm Beach, would be the first to lead from this position. The governor said that fentanyl accounted for almost 70% of all fatal overdoses in Florida, and that the number had increased by almost 800% since 2015.

Ladapo spoke next, saying the problem of addiction was “a heartbreaking problem,” and it was terrible for those who suffered from it.

“Ultimately what we want to do is help people address the traumas, the stress responses, that have led them to addiction,” Ladapo said. “That’s not the normal state of people, our babies don’t wake up addicted, they’re not born addicted, they just need love and food and support and attention.”

Ladapo said the experiences people have in life can lead to addiction, but that the new standard of care should focus on addressing these traumas as part of how they deal with addiction.

Scheppke spoke after Ladapo, thanking DeSantis and Ladapo and saying that he had “seen the devastating impact” of substance use disorder. He called it a disease, and said that his field of Emergency Medical Service had developed the 911 system to deal with emergency needs.

“Because of the epidemic in car crashes and death on highways, that’s why our 911 system and trauma system was developed,” Scheppke said. “In the last several years, overdoses have surpassed car crash deaths.”

He said a coordinated system of care would help people get the care they need to be, and that the current system of care was not to where people needed.

“People are on what I call the overdose wheel,” Scheppke said. “They overdose, 911 is called, patients are often given some sort of medication to reverse what the overdose is. They’re brought to he closes emergency department, the doctors and nurses there, good people, well meaning, wait for the drugs to wear off, tell the patient to stop engaging in that behavior, go follow up with care somewhere, the patient is discharged, to overdose and the cycle of care continues.”

Scheppke said that whenever a disease has been treated by mimicking the trauma system of care, there’s been an observable decrease in death rates and morbidity rates. He said it worked for trauma, and stroke, and heart attack, “and now it’ll work for substance use disorder.”

Other officials focused on how substance use affects all parts of the state.

“It is so vital for individuals contending with a substance use disorder to have access to the right array of services that will work for their individual needs,” Harris said. “When agencies, stakeholders, and partners alike come together to bolster our state’s system of care, we can ensure that Floridians have access to comprehensive services when they need it most.”

Phillips said that while the state “did not choose this epidemic,” it would “choose to treat this medical and psychiatric illness like any other, with access, evidence based care, and lifelong comprehensive treatment.”

Following stories shared by medical providers and other officials’ remarks, DeSantis returned to the podium and discussed working with the state legislature to “protect women’s sports in the state of Florida.”

He mentioned a track competition, in places “like Connecticut” where female athletes would train to compete, and then a “boy who identified as female” would enter the race and the races would become “unfair.” DeSantis said Florida had taken steps to protect the fairness of competition, and said that President Joe Biden was “threatening to penalize states that have taken basic common sense actions like just recognizing the importance of women’s sports. They’re threatening to take away lunch money from poor kids as punishment for us protecting women’s sports. Think about how deranged that is.”

DeSantis described the federal government as “so intent on destroying the competition of women’s athletics” that they were using lunch money for low-income students as a “cudgel” and that Florida would “not back down” on the issue. As he’s said in the past, with Florida’s education system, they would not teach Critical Race Theory and gender-based or sexuality-focused ideologies, instead focusing on “reading, math, science, the basic stuff.”

He said indoctrination was not what Florida would teach, and that it was not difficult to understand for elementary school education. DeSantis gave further comment on teacher salary increases, working on providing better assistance to law enforcement officers, and then spoke about new officers moving from out of state to work in Florida, “fleeing” from places like New York and Chicago, where they weren’t supporting their officers.

Referring to the state’s teacher shortage, DeSantis spoke about the recent legislation to let military service members and veterans receive temporary teaching certifications to enter the school system, and criticized comments by the head of the Florida teacher’s union in Sarasota.

“Give me someone with four years of experience as a Devil Dog, over somebody that has four years of experience at Shoehorn U, and I will take the marine every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” DeSantis said. “This is offensive to hear. And I think it passed the legislature unanimously.” He said he was proud to leverage the experience of veterans in the education system, before opening up a question and answer session.

Scheppke answered first, responding to a question about insurance needs for the new recovery and substance use program. He said it was a public-private partnership so that anyone could get help.

Harris answered a question next, saying that any tool that can help fight substance use is a good thing, praising the new program. DeSantis responded to a question about fear next, saying politicians needed to stop being afraid and that the state “would not do fear. We are going to do facts,” with any public health response. The question was focused on monkeypox and said that some states were declaring emergency responses to the outbreak, but said those areas would use them to restrict freedoms.

“Who knows what’ll be in the future, who knows what they’re cooking up in Wuhan,” DeSantis said. “You’ve gotta deal with this rationally. And I’ll tell ya, with COVID, if you remember, the fear killed people. At the height of hysteria, in March 2020, you had a ton of people going to the emergency department for heart and stroke. And you think about it, did heart attack and strokes just suddenly stop happening because Fauci said 15 days?”

He said conditions were still affecting patients, but people were too scared to seek medical attention. Referring to school lockdowns for COVID, DeSantis said he didn’t regret getting schools open, and that parents did not either.

“I’d say it’s the same thing, with anything that’s coming down the pike, you’ve gotta remain rational and not use it for political gain,” DeSantis said.

Ladapo then took to the podium to talk about the current monkeypox outbreak, saying some of the headlines lately were “remarkable.”

“Some of these headlines were very clearly trying to make you afraid of monkeypox, or fill in the blank, because if you’re not afraid of this, there will be something else after that, and something else after that,” Ladapo said. “I don’t think it’s worth even talking about, trying to change the media, it’s not going to happen from anything we would ever do. What can change is how we take in the information, what we do with the information, how we choose to be.”

Ladapo said “these people” were determined to make you afraid, and that he hoped more people would choose not to. He said there were about 500 “known cases” in Florida “but only heaven knows how many actual cases there have been.”

“Out of those cases, probably somewhere around 98%, maybe 99% of cases are men, just a handful are women. Almost all of those cases are transferred by physical contact, and basically sexual contact for the most part,” Ladapo said. “There have been reports of cases in kids that are connected with adults who either acquired the infection from sexual contact, in Florida there’s one case of a healthcare provider who contracted it from a needle stick.”

Ladapo said there were no fatalities, and said it was fortunate that it would not have a morbid affect. The state has received 20,000 doses of monkeypox vaccines, according to Ladapo, but said there was not very little data on the vaccine itself. He said more data was needed.

“From what I’ve seen so far, we’ve had more vaccines in the state than what we’ve actually administered to people. So, there are questions about demand, but I think the bigger question is about access and where people can get them from,” Ladapo said. “We’re working with the federal government to acquire more vaccines, but I’m also working with my team to ensure that the people who do want to take this are more easily able to gain access.”

Ladapo said the monkeypox vaccines were EUA, or emergency use authorization, saying that there wasn’t much recent data. After, DeSantis spoke about the process of supplying monoclonal antibodies during the Omicron portion of COVID-19, criticizing media for their “attacks” over treating with the mAbs, instead of promoting vaccines, and repeating previous complaints over how the federal government had “worked” to revoke the EUA for them during Omicron.

“I think the attacks on it were basically because we were charting a different course, we believed people could make their own decisions about what they wanted to do with shots, not shots,” DeSantis said. “We had already banned COVID shot mandates for school children, then we saved police and fire, and then we did the special session and saved private sector employees, giving them the ability to opt out of any of these corporate mandates.”

He said Biden had stigmatized the unvaccinated, saying “they were the problem.” DeSantis said that before COVID, he had “never seen something like a vaccine be wielded as a political weapon to try to marginalize people.” DeSantis said that would never happen in Florida, but that division had led to further hostility between the state government and the federal.

“They rationed it out of Florida because they don’t like me,” DeSantis said.

Closing out his commentary, and the event, in discussion of how politics had played a part in COVID response, he drew attention to the difference in response to protests over the death of Georgia Floyd, while protests over the lockdowns themselves were very different.

“When the George Floyd riots were happening, they actually wrote a letter with thousands of people signing it saying ‘we do not believe that rioting and protesting is bad for COVID,’ that you can do it, go ahead. ‘We think it’s so important that you have to do it,'” DeSantis said. “‘But this doesn’t meant that we support all protests, if you’re protesting lockdown policies and other things, that you can’t do that.’ And that’s when I knew, these people are a bunch of frauds.”