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Gov. Scott, Attorney General Bondi Join Forces To Fight Florida's Rising Opioid Epidemic

Florida Channel

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Governor Rick Scott, and law enforcement agencies around the state are working to crack down on Florida’s opioid epidemic. The effort includes hosting a series of workshops and advocating for legislative fixes.

On the heels of fighting pill mill clinics, Attorney General Pam Bondi says Florida is suffering from another crisis that’s also affecting the nation: opioid abuse.

“We know these drugs are coming into our country from Asia. It’s heroin coming in, it’s fentanyl coming in, and it’s carfentanil coming in,” she said. “They’re all mixed together. They’re mixing heroin—and now, whoever even thought of this in a pill form. And, five people dropped dead in three day period in Pinellas County, and it was a Xanax pill that they thought they were buying for a couple of dollars off the street.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is at least 50 times stronger than heroin, while carfentanil—another controlled substance—is potent enough to tranquilize an elephant.

Bondi says her office just signed an agreement with a company to get a reduced price on a nasal form of naloxone that can help treat drug overdoses.

“NARCAN is what —this is what it looks likes—it’s a nasal spray, no different than any over the counter nasal spray,” she added. “It’s in a bottle, and what it sells for, we’re getting it for a dramatic reduction in cost, and we want to thank Adapt Pharma. We hope a lot of other people will step up.”

And, Bondi says legislatively, she has two bills on her radar:

The first—already headed to the House floor—adds fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs to Florida’s drug trafficking statute.

The other cracks down on sober homes, which Bondi says are not legitimate treatment facilities.

“They are horrible places,” she continued. “They’re mainly based in the Palm Beach area, and that’s where addicts are being taken in under the guise of getting the rehab that they need and further addicted to drugs. This sober home legislation will give the Governor’s agencies the power to regulate them and put them out of business, like we did with the pill mills. It will also give my office of Statewide Prosecution the ability to go after them as well.”

Governor Rick Scott says the issue is personal for him.

“I had a family member dealing with drug abuse and he struggled with drug abuse his entire life, and I can tell you wish I had known exactly what to do for him,” said Scott. “I can just tell you it was devastating. His life has been devastated, and it also had a dramatic impact on my mom’s life. And, she died a few years ago, and I can tell you what bothered her the most is that she could not change my brother’s life.”

In addition to putting money into this year’s budget to help reduce heroin abuse, Scott says he’s now directing several of his agencies to host community workshops all across the state.

“The Attorney General’s team will absolutely be involved in this and will play an absolutely big role,” he added. “At my direction, these agencies will travel to counties facing an increase in opioid related deaths to host community workshops with local leaders, law enforcement, health directors, treatment providers, and community members. The goal with this is try to organize those ideas to see if we can find out exactly some things that we can do to have an impact. In the end, it’s always going to come down to that individual and that family is always going to have to deal with that issue.”

Law enforcement agencies across the state are also working to do their part. Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal is the President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“We are planning on attacking this problem, and staying unified,” he said. “I come from an area in Southeast Florida, that is considered to be the epicenter of the opioid problem. And, I never thought we would get to a day where our officers are out there having to administer something  to individuals to try to save their life on scene. That’s usually resigned to EMS fire personnel, but they’re working with us to give us the tools to do it.”

Meanwhile, in addition to working on this crisis in Florida, Bondi was recently appointed to sit on President Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.