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DeSantis Taps Surgeon General, Continues Fight Against Opioid Abuse

DeSantis Rivkees DOH
Governor's Press Office

Gov. Ron DeSantis is tapping a doctor from the University of Florida to lead the state Department of Health. 

Scott Rivkees is the governor’s pick for Florida’s Surgeon General, a role that also oversees the Department of Health. Rivkees is currently in charge of the UF's pediatrics department, housed at UF’s Shands Children’s Hospital.

“This is a very, very accomplished guy and has done a lot for our state at the University of Florida," DeSantis said, speaking at a news conference in Sanford on Monday. "And I think when you are looking at particularly public health problems like opioids, he’s the type of guy that I think can make a real difference.” 

Rivkees saidthere are a number of health care problems facing the state. He highlighted staffing shortages in medical fields and the need for expanded access to care in rural areas.

DeSantis reportedly has had trouble filling the post with someone who shares his stance on medical marijuana. Earlier this year, the governor called on the legislature to pass a bill allowing a smokeable version.

Rivkees notably addressed this in his acceptance.

“Medical marijuana also has proven benefits in several conditions, including cancer pain [and] epilepsy and was legalized in our state in January 2017," Rivkees said. "Recently, smokebale medical marijuana was also signed into law by Gov. DeSantis. We need to be sure that these legislative initiatives are implemented promptly and properly.”

DeSantis also announced he’s signing an executive order that will re-create the Office of Drug Control within the Executive Office of the Governor. Then-Gov. Rick Scott shuttered the office in 2011.

Attorney General Ashley Moody will lead an opioid taskforce to work with the office.

“Substance abuse is a serious public health and safety concern," DeSantis said. "And the opioid epidemic has devastated families and communities throughout our state.”

DeSantis saidthe Office of Drug Control will act as a liaison between the federal and local governments.

Meanwhile, Moody’s taskforce will develop best practices for health and law enforcement agencies, including education and legal punishments.

The attorney general is also leading Florida’s efforts in a multi-state legal battle against pharmaceutical companies. The suit charges drug makers with fanning the opioid epidemic by marketing the narcotics. Oklahoma recently settled for $250 million, a move DeSantis called, “chump change.”

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.