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Florida Must Find Funds To Combat Opioid Abuse

Prescription drugs on a shelf
Daylina Miller/WUSF
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

If the state wants to continue efforts at current levels to curb opioid abuse, it will need to find about $76 million, members of a Senate health-care spending panel were told Wednesday. 

The money would be needed to replace federal grant funding set to expire in September, Department of Children and Families officials told the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Panel Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, assured members that continued opioid funding would be a priority when the Legislature convenes in January and begins working on the state budget for next fiscal year.

“This is going to be one of those big pieces of building our budgets,” Bean said. Former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 declared opioid abuse a state emergency.

The announcement made the state eligible for federal grant dollars. The federal government also gave Florida grants to fight the opioid epidemic in 2018 and 2019.

The majority of those funds have been targeted toward medication-assisted treatment and support, according to Ute Gazioch, director of substance abuse and mental health for the Department of Children and Families.

Gazioch told lawmakers that the funding appears to have made a difference, based on an interim medical examiners report released in July. The interim report focused on 2018 data. It showed about a 13 percent decrease in opioid-caused deaths in the first six months of 2018 compared to the first six months of 2017, Gazioch said.

“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. So we are optimistic,” she said.