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Florida to commit more state money to opioid treatment amid mix of expiring, new federal grants

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

Florida will need to provide $76 million in fiscal 2021 to replace expiring federal grant funding for opioid medication-assisted treatment programs, a Senate health care panel learned Wednesday.

Department of Children & Families (DCF) Director of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Ute Gazioch told the Senate Health & Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that a federal grant subsidizing the program ends in September.

Gazioch said the medication-assisted treatment program appears to be effective based on an interim July report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission (MEC) that showed a 13-percent decrease in opioid-caused deaths in 2018’s first six months compared to the first six months of 2017.

According to the MEC report, there were 2,773 “opioid-related” deaths reported, a 10-percent decrease – 312 fewer – during the first six months of 2018 than during the first six months of 2017, with 1,841 ”opioid-caused” deaths reported, a 13-percent decrease, or 279 fewer, then in the first six month of 2017.

“Now, if the second half of 2018 had enormous numbers, that may, in the end, wash out and still show an increase, but If those trends did continue through the second half of 2018, that may be the first time that we see a decrease in those opioid-caused deaths,” she said. “So we are optimistic.”

“This is going to be one of those big pieces of building our budgets,” subcommittee chair Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said, assuring officials that funding to combat opioid addiction will be a priority when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 14.

In May 2017, then-Gov. Rick Scott declared opioid abuse a crisis in Florida after the state’s Department of Health (DOH) reported heroin caused 952 deaths, fentanyl 1,390 deaths, oxycodone 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths in 2016.

In March 2018, Scott approved a $65 million package of laws that limited opioid prescriptions to no more than seven days and made it mandatory for doctors to check a database – the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) – to verify a patient’s history before writing a script for any controlled substance.

Also approved in 2018:

• $14.6 million for residential treatment beds, outpatient treatment and case management, emergency room treatment and follow up, peer recovery support services and targeted outreach for pregnant women with substance abuse disorders.

• $27 million in federal funding from the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant.

• $16.5 million for the DCF and Department of Corrections to treat opioid addiction

In early October, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved a $58.8 million grant for Florida to treat addicted pregnant women and babies, and create a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Statewide Prevention Coordinator position.

The Overdose Data to Action grant will be issued over three years by the CDC, which will go to the Florida Department of Health (DOH), the DCF and the Broward, Duval and Palm Beach county health departments.

The DOH was assisted in securing the grant by First Lady Casey DeSantis’s “Hope for Healing Florida” initiative, launched in May as a “multi-agency mental health and substance abuse campaign to coordinate the combined efforts and resources of DCF, DOH, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Florida Department of Education to better serve the needs of Floridians struggling with mental health and substance abuse.”

Casey DeSantis in a statement said pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly affected by the opioid crisis, with nearly 6,000 babies born in recent years with Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome.

“Florida has made a lot of progress in addressing the crisis of opioid abuse,” DeSantis said. “That is because our governor has made it a priority and because so many dedicated health and substance abuse professionals are committed to finding meaningful ways to help those fighting the tragic consequences of this deadly drug. Today we are forging new paths to use all that research and data to improve coordination and delivery of services to make a real difference in people’s lives – to save lives.”

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