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Florida Lawmakers Looking To Add Treatment Programs To Fight Opioid Epidemic

| October 25, 2017

Photographer Geoff Livingston writes: 'This is my friend Gretchen. She just lost her 26 year old son to the U.S. opioid epidemic, and is in mourning. We decided to document her sense of loss in a series of street portraits in DC. If you are using drugs and can't stop, please get some help before it is too late.'

Photographer Geoff Livingston writes: ‘This is my friend Gretchen. She just lost her 26 year old son to the U.S. opioid epidemic, and is in mourning. We decided to document her sense of loss in a series of street portraits in DC. If you are using drugs and can’t stop, please get some help before it is too late.’

A combination of short-term intensive treatment beds, long-term outpatient services and medically assisted treatment could be the blueprint for a solution to the opioid epidemic gripping the state, a powerful Senate chairwoman said Wednesday.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee was the latest panel to take testimony from substance-abuse and mental-health providers, doctors and researchers about opioids, addiction and the types of treatments and services shown to combat what one expert characterized as a pandemic.

Echoing what others have said, Wednesday’s panelists told the subcommittee that the best way to address the issue is a multi-pronged approach.

The experts convinced Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who also learned that the complex situation involves providing low-income housing for recovering addicts.

The suggestions provide “a really good roadmap” for what works, Flores said before the meeting ended.

“The harder part now is to figure out where we get the money, but we’ll work on it,” Flores pledged.

Lawmakers have consistently been told that state funding needs to be spread to a combination of short-term residential treatment, longer-term outpatient treatment and medically assisted treatment involving prescription drugs that can help addicts cope with cravings or remove the urge to use drugs altogether.

Flores said she hasn’t decided how much the state should spend on the opioid issue, but seemed to have settled on a combination of treatments.

“How much in each part, obviously the details are a little complicated, but I’d like for us to spend a significant amount, whatever that means,” she said after the meeting.

Mark Stavros, an emergency-room doctor who teaches at Florida State University’s medical school and owns an addiction- treatment facility in Panama City, explained to the panel how opioids — including prescription drugs such as OxyContin and street drugs, like heroin — change the way the brain functions by affecting dopamine levels.

Addicts “get to the point where nothing is pleasurable to them but the drug” because it’s the only thing that gives them a feeling of pleasure, Stavros said.

“Many people taking opiates are not doing it to get high,” he said, adding that they’re using drugs “just to feel normal again.”

Getting addicts stabilized on medications like methadone or buprenorphine, also known as or Suboxone, allows them to benefit from other types of therapy, work in meaningful jobs and engage with their families, said Valerie Westhead, a psychiatrist who is chief medical officer of Aspire Health Partners in Orlando.

Experts like Westhead and Stavros label opioid addiction a chronic disease, like diabetes.

“Exposing a brain to opiates causes changes, regardless of whether you become addicted or not,” Westhead said. “It stops being something that you’re choosing to do, and it becomes something that you have to do.”

But Westhead said she and others have had positive results using naltrexone, or Vivitrol, an injectable medication that lasts for 30 days.

In her 30 years of treating substance abuse disorders, Westhead said “she has never seen a medication that has worked as well as naltrexone.” The drug allows addicts “to stabilize their lives and move forward,” she said.

Flores appeared wowed by Westhead’s testimony.

“We heard some pretty powerful testimony today from medical experts that said we have got some medicine out there that actually works,” Flores said. “She didn’t say it was a miracle drug, but she came pretty darn close to saying that.”

Gov. Rick Scott is asking for $50 million to address the opioid crisis, which prompted him to declare a public health emergency this year. But the governor hasn’t specified how he wants the money to be spent. Substance abuse and mental health providers are also seeking $50 million.

Meanwhile, the state is moving forward with $27 million in federal funding for the opioid epidemic. John Bryant, assistant secretary of substance abuse and mental health at the Department of Children and Families, said part of the money will be spent on opening 49 new methadone treatment centers — double the current number — in areas with the highest need.

The federal funding also includes nearly $1.8 million for naloxone, a drug also known as Narcan, that is used to reverse opioid overdoses.

But some lawmakers, including Flores, expressed concern about relying on the overdose kits to save lives but failing to provide follow-up services — like medication-assisted treatment — to prevent repeated overdoses.

“The thing that is profoundly difficult for me is we’re talking about the DCF overdose prevention program,” said Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

“When I think of prevention, I think of … the root cause for why somebody is looking for drugs in the first place … and we’re not really looking at some of those root causes,” she said. “We’re temporarily dealing with an issue but we’re not systemically changing the way we look at, think about, this issue. It’s just so troubling. It’s difficult.”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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7 Responses for “Florida Lawmakers Looking To Add Treatment Programs To Fight Opioid Epidemic”

  1. Pogo says:

    @The Hollow Republicans

    We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!…

    …Not with a bang but a whimper.

  2. Sw says:

    Stop perscribing them

  3. Dave says:

    Medical and even recreational Marijuana will drop your states opiods use big time!!

  4. Sherry says:

    Big Pharma. . . will NOT develop plant based remedies for ANYTHING because there’s not big PROFIT MOTIVE. Plants cannot be patented! This is why they fight so hard to stop the legalization of medical Marijuana and safer pain killers, etc.

    There is a “plant based” medication to help with addiction. . . BUT, here again it will not be made widely available because it is not PROFITABLE enough. Check out this story on CNN:

  5. GWOT Veteran says:

    Sherry, you are completely wrong about the plants they can and will be patented, most of the corn you find anywhere on the planet has a generic code that is patented by Monsanto, I’m willing to bet that they are itching to get control of the strains of cannabis on the market and will sue anyone trying to compete with them as they have done in other fields.

  6. Annonnus says:

    The money for treatment can come from $$ collected in drug raids , doctors that over prescribe, Are the doctors being monitored who are they prescribing to for how long is it a chronic condition that requires it will cannabis help the pain, will anti seizure meds like neuriten, Gabapitin work for the pain in place of Opoids, putting young people on Opoids long term is not good. Closing if pull mills brought on the heroin and meth , epidemic , doctors have to stop giving young people hard narcotics . Cutting hospital stays to mostly out patient surgery has also added to the probkem, before patients were in the hospital s few days after surgery and when released were no longer on strong pain meds. If some true thought goes into it I am sure the problem could be solved. But as,long as young people think it is The Thing To Do, it will continue to happen , it robs them of years if their lives and destroys families .

  7. MannyHM says:

    To Sw, opiate, like morphine is still the best pain treatment in a heart attack. Not only for pain relief, but also for anxiety and the fear of impending doom associated with heart attack it’s good for. The problem is the misuse and the extremely profitablestreet value.

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