Lawmakers Continue to Grapple With Opioid Crisis

Jan 25, 2017

Lawmakers are once again trying to combat Florida’s escalating opioid crisis. Across the country, patients with chronic pain are turning to heroin, or deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. A scarcity of prescription drugs, after lawmakers cracked down and pill mills, combined with cheap street drugs, is a proving deadly combination.

Recovering addict Katherine Johnson wants state lawmakers to increase funding for addiction treatment.
Credit Kate Payne

In recent years, Florida lawmakers have taken steps to track prescription drug use and make overdose reversal drugs like naloxone more accessible, as well passing a so-called Good Samaritan law which encourages drug users to seek treatment, without fear of legal retribution. But law enforcement, medical professionals, and addicts themselves say the state isn't doing enough.

Katherine Johnson is a recovering addict, who comes from a stable, middle-class family in the Jacksonville area. She was turned away from treatment centers without enough beds, before finally getting admitted when she found out she was pregnant. She says the  clinics that saved her life need more funding.

“If it wasn’t for the funds that go into the treatment centers, my son is five, and he probably wouldn’t be here. Because I would’ve lost him. And I probably wouldn’t be here either,” Johnson said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay is also pushing for more state support of addiction treatment. Her county is one of the hardest hit, with a 301% increase in opioid deaths in the last three years.

“In Palm Beach County, our most significant need in my opinion is the need to add to our detox beds. For a county of 1.4 million people with those types of overdose numbers, I have 23 publicly funded detox beds,” McKinlay said.

A bi-partisan coalition is pushing a suite of bills this session which would target synthetic drug dealers and reauthorize a prescription drug monitoring program. Lawmakers also want physicians to connect patients to treatment, and notify their doctors and relatives when they overdose.