Florida Delegation Gets Grim Facts on Heroin Crisis
Heroin Overdose Deaths in Florida Soar 900 percent in Past 5 years
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan today chaired a Florida congressional delegation meeting that focused on the spiraling death toll caused by heroin and opioid abuse throughout the state. Eleven members of Congress from both parties heard grim stories from anti-drug experts about the battle to control a raging epidemic that is destroying lives and families.
“One rainy day I walked out of my veterinarian’s office, looked toward the church next door and saw a dead body in the parking lot, a life lost due to heroin,” said Melissa Larkin-Skinner, chief clinical officer of Centerstone Behavioral Hospital and Outpatient Practice in Bradenton, Fl.
Buchanan said the hearing was very productive for the members, “We gained a better understanding of the scope and severity of the heroin crisis gripping Florida and other states” Buchanan said. “I’m hopeful our delegation will lead the way toward bipartisan action to address the crisis through prevention, treatment, education and interdiction.”
Florida delegation members listen to Frank C. Rabbito, senior vice president of WestCare Foundation during a public meeting on the heroin crisis.
Buchanan represents the epicenter of Florida’s heroin crisis, Manatee County, which had more heroin overdose deaths per capita than any other Florida county in 2014.
Buchanan was joined by Florida delegation co-chair U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-FL, and several other members, including Reps. John Mica, Gus Bilirakis, Ted Yoho, Alan Grayson, Carlos Curbelo, Posey, Curt Clawson and Ted Deutch.
Others appearing before the delegation included U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI, author of a sweeping anti-drug bill supported by Buchanan; Frank C. Rabbito, senior vice president of WestCare Foundation in Miami, Fl.; and a Miami resident currently in recovery from heroin addiction; and Larkin-Skinner.
Buchanan noted that Florida’s clout with the third-largest congressional delegation in the nation can help ensure that meaningful legislation is enacted by Congress this year. Nationally, 125 Americans die from drug overdoses each day.
The hearing comes days after the Florida Medical Examiners Commission released its interim 2015 drug mortality report, a harrowing study that details the severity of the state’s drug epidemic and its shocking death toll. According to the report, the number of heroin deaths in Florida in the first half of 2015 was 115 percent higher than during the same period a year earlier.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act of 2016 (H.R. 5046), legislation Buchanan has co-sponsored, shared with the Florida delegation members how his bill was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday in a rare bipartisan vote, noting that “doesn’t happen often.” The legislation would establish a grant program for states and local governments to provide services relating to opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities.
Frank C. Rabbito also shared with the members how fentanyl plays a “critical role in the escalation of heroin deaths.” He noted that in 2014, there were 138 heroin-related deaths in the Suncoast region alone.
In closing, the Congressman said he was encouraged that House leadership has scheduled votes on a package of opioid bills during the week of May 9.
“Americans are struggling to combat this epidemic,” Buchanan said. “Passage of Rep. Sensenbrenner’s legislation will provide critical federal resources to support our loved ones on a path to recovery.”