Community Leaders Call for Action to Fight Heroin Epidemic
Buchanan Backs Key Anti-Heroin Bills in Congress
BRADENTON — Nearly 20 anti-drug experts and community leaders told U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today that a growing heroin crisis is destroying lives across Southwest Florida.
At an anti-heroin forum assembled by Buchanan to address drug addiction, the experts said the federal government must intervene to help stop a mushrooming crisis. The group praised legislation Buchanan has co-sponsored in Congress to slow the influx of deadly drugs into the country as well as strengthen treatment, prevention and education programs.
Kevin DiLallo, chief executive officer of Manatee Memorial Hospital, said the hospital treated a total of 269 drug overdoses last year, averaging five a day. Nationally, 125 Americans die from drug overdoses each day.
Buchanan, a co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), said he would push for swift action on the bill in Congress. The U.S. Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this week.
The roundtable, held at Goodwill Manasota in Bradenton, included comments from law enforcement, medical professionals, and anti-drug advocates (see full list below). The discussion also included a sobering personal story from a recovering addict.
“The perspectives shared today by law enforcement, treatment professionals and others are critical to helping stop the growing heroin crisis here in Florida.” Buchanan said. “By working together, we can curb this epidemic and put our friends, neighbors, and family members on a path to recovery.”
State Attorney Ed Brodsky thanked the congressman for taking on the issue, and noted how the package of bills Buchanan has co-sponsored will address the epidemic in a comprehensive manner. “The community has come together to address this issue,” Brodsky echoed. “Law enforcement needs more resources.”
Larry Eger, public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, repeated the need for education, prevention and treatment programs. “These bills add to the arsenal for fighting addiction.”
Sharon Kramer, executive director of Drug Free Manatee, described how the package of bills will boost resources at the county level.
Cathy Wilson of Centerstone of Florida said the heroin crisis is like “whack-a-mole, you hit one thing and something else pops up.” Wilson called for expanding drug courts.
Sarasota Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino commended the congressman for looking at ways to fund education and prevention programs and help law enforcement do their jobs. “Prevention is the key, in my opinion.”
In addition to CARA (H.R. 953), Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the STOP ABUSE Act (H.R. 3719). The bills represent a multipronged approach aimed at attacking the supply of drugs, preventing new victims through better education, and helping those already addicted recover and lead productive lives. The $1.8 billion cost of these bills would be offset by spending cuts in other parts of the federal budget.
The number of heroin overdose deaths in Florida increased nine-fold, from 48 to 447, from 2010-2014, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. Spiking heroin use rates are being driven by a “one-two punch” of cheap, available heroin and prescription narcotic abuse, according to CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
“Drug addiction is a growing crisis that destroys families and lives every day here in Florida,” Buchanan said. “The Senate’s expected action is a positive step towards ensuring this much-needed anti-heroin legislation becomes law. I’ll do everything I can to make certain that the House of Representatives moves quickly to put this vital anti-drug legislation on the president’s desk.”
The sheriffs of Manatee and Sarasota Counties also expressed support for Buchanan’s legislative approach.
Key components of the two bills co-sponsored by Buchanan include:
• Funding for state, local, and non-profit drug education efforts for teens and seniors.
• Providing grants for treatment and prevention to states, nonprofits, and municipalities.
• Establishing a federal task force to develop best practices for pain medication.
• Creating new veterans-specific drug treatment courts.
• Reauthorizing High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Grants. The program coordinates federal, state, and local law enforcement anti-drug trafficking efforts in specific, high-risk counties. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 21 Florida counties were designated as HIDTAs last year.
The drug crisis is fueled by the smuggling and shipment of heroin into our country. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, over 90 percent of all heroin in the U.S. originated in Mexico or South America.
“The heroin epidemic has become a public health and safety emergency and shipments of the lethal drug continue to stream across our borders,” Buchanan said. “Families, neighbors, and friends are pleading for Congress to take action. Congress should help save American lives and provide desperately needed resources to our law enforcement agencies.”
For years, Buchanan has been a leader in the fight to crack down on prescription drug abuse. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency adopted Buchanan’s proposal to make it more difficult for abusers to obtain certain highly addictive narcotics.
The roundtable included the following participants:
Larry Eger, Public Defender, 12th Judicial Circuit
Kevin DiLallo, CEO, Manatee Memorial Hospital
Sharon Kramer, Executive Director, Drug Free Manatee
Cathy Wilson, Director of Community Care, Centerstone of Florida
Nancy Page, Clinical Director, First Step
Ed Brodsky, State Attorney, 12th Judicial Circuit
Capt. Michael Stinson, Palmetto Police Department
Terry Gubbins, Past President, Florida Pharmacy Association
Steve Young, Chief Operating Officer, Doctors Hospital
Chief Michael Kessie, New College Police Department
Assistant Chief Mike Pelfrey, North Port Police Department
Cindy Harney, Co-Founder, Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse
Paul Sutton, Executive Director, Sarasota Coalition on Substance Abuse
Erin Minor, Executive Director, Harvest House
Robert Tabor, Supervisor, Coastal Behavioral Health Care
Chief Bernadette DiPino, Sarasota Police Department
Capt. Charlie Thorpe, Sarasota County Sheriff Department
Sgt. Shannon Seymour, Bradenton Police Department
Denise Gattuso, No Longer Silent