Florida’s Response to Opioid Crisis Comes Up Short
State Releases Details of $53.5 Million Effort to Combat Opioid Epidemic
When is 53.5 million dollars not enough? The answer is when you are dealing with a problem that is killing an average of 16 Floridians a day. That’s right, opioid overdoses kill an average of 16 Florida residents every single day. That is not a blip, it is not a statistical anomaly. That represents a major health crisis facing the citizens of Florida.
The recently passed Florida State Budget includes 53.5 million dollars earmarked to help battle the opioid epidemic. Before we delve into program itself, let’s talk about the expenditure. On the surface, a 53.5-million-dollar price tag certainly seems like a lot for Florida taxpayers to shoulder. However, the Florida State Budget for fiscal year 2018 is an 88-Billion-dollar spending package. 88 Billion. I’m not a math major and my calculator doesn’t handle billions, but I am figuring that less than a quarter of one percent of Florida’s state revenue is going into battling the opioid crisis.
The budget includes over 400 million dollars in new spending for various programs that are a direct response to the recent horrible school shooting in Parkland. Very worthy programs to upgrade school safety and improve mental health services (you can read the Tampa Bay Times budget primer here.)
At the same time, as we mentioned above, opioid overdoses are killing an average of 16 Floridians a day. By the way, the 53.5-million-dollar opioid crisis program includes 27 million dollars of federal funds that are directly earmarked for dealing with opioid abuse as part of Washington’s response to the epidemic. So, the state is contributing approximately 26.5 million dollars of taxpayer revenue to help quell the epidemic. Did I mention this is an 88-billion-dollar budget?
State Senator Darryl Rouson (D- St. Petersburg) proposed adding another 25 million of state funds to the program, but removed his proposal after the budget director announced that the funds just weren’t there (you can read Sarasota Herald Tribune coverage here.)
An underfunded program needs to invest every dollar wisely. The Florida program is laid out in a 46 page narrative (if you’d like to read it, you can do that here) The state’s funds will be flowing to local communities through six already existing statewide Managing Entities (ME). For the Tampa Bay area, the entity is the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network. Those ME will work with a state appointed Program Director to allocate resources.
The federal money comes with strings attached. It must be used to help treat uninsured addicts, distribute Naloxone (the drug that can save the life of an overdose victim) and provide educational programs for at risk middle and high school students. The definition for at risk will limit the education funds to six rural counties. In other words, over 95% of Florida high school and middle school students will not be covered and that includes just about every kid in an urban area. This to combat a problem that is killing an average of 16 Floridians a day.
Certainly, treating the uninsured it vital. At the same time, more and more citizens with health insurance are discovering that their coverage doesn’t go very far when it comes to dealing with addiction.
Now let’s look at where the state money will go. The state is spending an additional 5 million dollars to purchase Naloxone. Approximately one million dollars will help update the state’s prescription drug monitoring database. That leaves about 17 million dollars to go to community substance abuse services. That’s not a whole lot of money and the state has decided the most effective use of those funds is to give them to Medication Assistance Treatment providers. In other words, improving access to Suboxone and Methadone for the uninsured and those who can’t afford the copays if they are insured.
Those drugs are certainly helpful for those trying to break the nasty cycle of addiction. At the same time, they are a band aid. Replacing the narcotic of choice with a different albeit less dangerous option. These drugs cannot break the cycle of addiction unless accompanied a true rehabilitation program that includes significant mental health services, that this funding just doesn’t have the ability to provide.
So much of what funding Florida is providing is going right back to big Pharma. Which is where this problem started in the first place. That will the subject of a future post.