Buchanan Honored as Health Care Champion
BRADENTON — Congressman Vern Buchanan was honored Thursday as a “champion of health care” by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce for his work to reform mental health laws and confront a growing drug crisis in the region.
Buchanan was one of several to be recognized with the “Community Impact Award” before a crowd of 350 at the fifth annual Champions of Health Care Awards Breakfast.
During the ceremony, Melissa Larkin-Skinner, chief executive officer of Centerstone Florida, praised Buchanan for his work addressing the area’s opioid crisis and mental health services.
“Congressman Vern Buchanan has been tireless in his efforts to bring resources to our community for behavioral health care,” Larkin-Skinner said. “As a leader at the national level, our Congressman has been a critical ally to our local medical community. Thank you Congressman Buchanan for being a behavioral health care champion and making an impact on our community!”
Buchanan said it was a tremendous honor to be recognized by the group. “The drug epidemic has hit our region harder than any other in Florida and for far too long Americans suffering with mental illness have been stigmatized and left in the shadows. Helping people recover needs to be a team effort.”
Grim statistics show the depth of the Suncoast area’s drug problems. According to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission:
· Manatee County had the highest number of cocaine deaths per capita in 2015 and 2014 of all 67 counties.
· Manatee had the highest number of Florida morphine deaths per capita in 2015 and 2014.
· Manatee had the highest number of Florida heroin deaths per capita in the state in 2015 and 2014.
· Manatee and Sarasota counties had the highest and second-highest number of fentanyl-related deaths per capita in the state in 2015.
· Manatee had the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths per capita in the state in 2014.
Heroin deaths in Florida spiked 80 percent in 2015 compared to the year prior, according to the latest data made available by the state’s medical examiners commission. The same report also cited the fact that statewide, fentanyl-related deaths increased by more than 77 percent from 2014 to 2015.
The Congressman has been an active leader in addressing the opioid crisis in Florida. He fought for federal anti-drug funds that were recently distributed to the Suncoast region. Buchanan also announced earlier this year that he has co-sponsored the STOP Act (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act) – legislation that will toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States.
In March, Buchanan hosted a meeting of the area’s top hospital executives about the problem. Last May, Buchanan chaired a hearing examining the impact of addiction on kids. He also hosted a roundtable in Bradenton, Fla. with local police officers, medical professionals and stakeholders. Buchanan also chaired a meeting of the bipartisan 29-member Florida congressional delegation in Washington, DC where members heard testimony from anti-drug experts. Buchanan serves as co-chair of the Florida delegation. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration adopted Buchanan’s proposal to make it more difficult for abusers to obtain certain highly addictive narcotics.
The Congressman is a strong advocate for reforms to the federal mental health system. He co-sponsored the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, a bipartisan measure that will help the approximately one in five American adults that suffer from mental illness in a given year. The legislation was included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in December 2016.
Passage of the mental health legislation marked the first time Congress took action to significantly overhaul the mental health system in more than half a century. The last major push for mental health reform occurred more than 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.
Specifically, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act delivers treatment to individuals with mental illness before tragedy strikes. The bill authorizes grants focused on suicide prevention and early intervention programs, and boosting the number of psychiatrists and psychologists. The bill allows law enforcement to use existing funds to create mental health response programs, including crisis intervention teams.