Pubdate: Mon, 05 Oct 2015
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2015 St. Petersburg Times
Note: Named the St. Petersburg Times from 1884-2011.
Page: A10


A surge in heroin use in Hillsborough County and throughout Florida 
underscores the need for increased state funding for substance abuse 
treatment and mental health services. Gov. Rick Scott has wisely 
recognized that Florida is not doing enough to help people addicted 
to drugs and living with mental illness, and the Legislature next 
year should follow his lead and invest more money in these critical services.

Heroin deaths in Florida reached an all-time high in 2014 of 447 
people, according to a report released last week by state medical 
examiners. Hillsborough County recorded 22 heroin-related deaths in 
2014, up from just three a year earlier. Officials have already 
linked 18 Hillsborough deaths to heroin in the first half of this 
year. Public health officials across the country say law 
enforcement's crackdown on doctor shopping, pill mills and the opioid 
drug oxycodone has prompted the addicted to look for an alternative. 
Increasingly, drug users are turning to heroin, a relatively 
inexpensive opioid that is easy to obtain as drug cartels from Mexico 
find ways to produce a more potent product and smuggle it north, 
according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The spike in 
heroin deaths highlights an enormous gap in the care offerings for 
drug addicts, a problem Florida would be smart to quickly address.

Last week, Florida's Department of Children and Families reached a 
settlement with Disability Rights Florida, which had sued the state 
and accused it of failing to have enough community placement spots 
for the mentally ill. The settleA-ment includes the creation of a 
pilot program in Hillsborough to provide wraparound services that 
will ease transitions from hospitals to community-based care. With 
proper execution, this move can positively affect the lives of one of 
the state's most vulnerable populations.

This summer, the governor sensibly issued an executive order that 
requires an increased focus on providing mental health services to 
inmates to help their reintegration into society. Scott also created 
a pilot program in Broward County, which he later expanded to 
Pinellas and Alachua counties, that will attempt to better coordinate 
mental health and substance abuse services across agencies. And Scott 
has proposed raising spending for mental health patients and drug 
treatment in 2016-17.

Florida has long ranked among the country's stingiest for substance 
abuse treatment and mental health spending, coming in 49th in the 
nation in 2012. The governor is right to propose investing more in 
these areas, which would benefit more patients and help address 
broader issues ranging from crime to homelessness to health care costs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom