EDITORIAL: A needed call for help on opioid crisis | Editorial

2017-08-12 | Sun Sentinel

Aug. 11--On Wednesday morning, President Trump and Gov. Rick Scott should have been at Palm Beach State College.

They would have heard about the 399 fatal drug overdoses in Palm Beach County through June -- 100 more than in the first six months of last year.

They would have heard that drug overdoses kill 15 Floridians every day.

They would have heard about the adult who overdosed four times in one day and the 11-month-old whom paramedics had to revive after the baby somehow ingested heroin.

They would have heard desperate parents like Maureen Kielian begging for help. Kielian said her high school-aged son has lost more friends to early death than she has.

And they would have heard state Rep. Kristen Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, say, "I just buried another child in my son's graduating class. I'm really tired of going to funerals."

This day, however, the guest of honor was Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. He will be writing the 2017-18 state budget for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who also came to the summit "to listen."

The summit participants seek many things to stem the scourge of opioid abuse. State money could pay for some. With the legislative session starting in January, budget requests can't start too soon.

As it is for so many of Wednesday's participants, the opioid issue is personal for Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who organized the summit. An aide to McKinlay lost her daughter to an opioid overdose. McKinlay is friendly with Latvala, who said he wanted to "hear directly from the professionals and families involved with the issue."

Hear he did. Latvala heard Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg call the opioid issue "the No. 1 health crisis and the No. 1 criminal justice crisis" in the state. He heard about the burden the crisis is placing on city and county paramedics and medical examiner's offices.

Latvala, however, heard more than complaints. He heard about a Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue program that gets therapists to hospitals when someone is admitted for an overdose and seeks treatment for the addiction. Those who enter the program are evaluated after eight days and 30 days. Results have been encouraging.

Notably, Latvala did not hear anyone suggest that law enforcement is anything more than one part of the solution. The emphasis was on treating the addiction. That contrasts sharply with what has been coming out of the Trump administration. Indeed, the administration's comments contrast sharply with the president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

At the commission's first meeting in June, speakers made the same point as those who spoke at Palm Beach State College. Addiction is a disease of the brain. Treatment should be based on science. Health insurance should cover the treatment.

At that point, the worry was that Trump and the Republican-led Congress would pass health care legislation that gutted Medicaid. No program pays more for addiction treatment, which is disproportionately higher among the white, working-class Americans in Appalachia and the Midwest who helped Trump become president.

That fear finally may have passed, given the failed effort to repeal Obamacare. Plus, Trump finally has nominated people for key positions in the fight against opioid abuse.

In June, Trump chose Dr. Jerome Adams to be surgeon general. Trump ran off the incumbent, who drew attention to the opioid crisis and pushed for medication-based treatment. Adams is Indiana's public health commissioner and seems non-ideological. He advocated needle exchanges to stop an AIDS outbreak, for example.

Last month, Trump also picked Brenda Fitzgerald to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fitzgerald is from Georgia. Perhaps she can tell her fellow Georgian -- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price -- that the "faith-based" approach he recently touted for opioid addiction is lacking.

Among Trump's first budget proposals was a 95 percent budget cut that essentially would wipe out the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Trump has backed off that terrible idea. And on Thursday, he finally said he would declare opiods to be a national emergency.

Congress did appropriate $500 million for states to deal with opioid abuse, but that came under President Obama. Scott recently has shown more interest in the issue, but no one seems able to explain how Florida lost $20 million in federal money that would have gone for residential treatment beds.

There was a political element to Wednesday's meeting. Latvala may run for governor.

But the opioid crisis transcends partisan politics. It kills more Americans each year than guns or cars. It deserves close attention and financial support from the White House, the Governor's Mansion and on down.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O'Hara, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.