During Destin visit, Gov. Ron DeSantis spells out plan to combat opioid crisis
DESTIN − Before a standing-room only crowd Friday morning at Shoreline Church, Gov. Ron DeSantis told the more than 500 gathered about how the state plans to combat the opioid crisis.
“This is a serious crisis, not just affecting the state of Florida but every corner of the United States,” DeSantis said.
In 2021, more than 107,000 died from a drug overdose and over 75 percent of those were related to opioids.
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“More people are dying from drug overdoses than car crashes every year in our country,” DeSantis said.
He spoke about how fentanyl is manufactured in China and how it has made its way into the United States via the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico.
“So little fentanyl can kill so many people,” DeSantis said, noting that just last month enough fentanyl came into this country to kill every single American.
“We’ve done our part trying to combat the border crisis. The reality is we have this stuff flowing into our country and it’s very very dangerous. The thing about it is … you can have a teenager using some kind of drug and not even know there is fentanyl in it,” he said.
“Fentanyl is laced into all kinds of stuff. That can be deadly,” he said.
Last August, the state of Florida launched the CORE Network, which is an emergency response and addiction treatment program. The goal of the program is to establish a coordinated system of care for those seeking treatment help from opioid disorder.
The governor said they have been working with county health partners and emergency medical services to “fill the gaps in services and make sure people have access to care 24/7.”
“We were the first in the nation to do this type of approach,” he said, noting the coordination of efforts between communities and state agencies.
“The goal is to identify the problem and then get the people to where they need to be so they can have productive lives,” he said.
The state recently secured billions of dollars in settlements from lawsuits filed against the opioid manufacturers.
“These were companies that knew these were highly addictive medications. A lot of people got hooked on those as a result and did a lot of damage to our society,” DeSantis said.
The governor then presented a plan as to how the state is going to use the $205.7 million that Florida received from the settlement to prevent and treat substance abuse in Florida.
∙$26.8 million will to go expand the CORE Network from 12 counties to 17.
∙$10.2 million will go to establish an office of opioid recovery.
∙$39.4 million for prevention.
∙$92.5 million for treatment.
∙$25.3 million for recovery.
∙$11.3 million to integrate some of the data collected, so they can evaluate some of the successes or not of the program.
“The opioid settlement also gives $135.4 million directly to the local communities. We think this will make a difference.
“We’re always looking how can we get ahead of some of these problems. What could we be doing?” DeSantis said.
The CORE Network will expand to 17 counties.
After the program was launched, the CORE Network has serviced and evaluated 2,682 individuals for opioid use disorder.
“The network has a retention rate of 70% and a relapse rate of 2%,” DeSantis said, as the crowd began to clap.
“We’re pleased with the results of what we’ve been able to do,” he said
Since the network now has a website, flcorenetwork.com, Floridians can get connected to addiction care, even if their county is not yet part of the CORE Network.
“You should be able to get the support you need,” he said.
DeSantis talked of issuing 186,00 kits that would include Narcan spray, which has been helpful in bringing people back from an overdose, to the various communities, health departments, law enforcement and first responders throughout Florida.
Also, $9 million is being allotted for mobile on demand treatment units to support the rural communities.
After showing of a video that “packed a punch” on what the opioid crisis is doing to real life people, First Lady Casey DeSantis spoke of how the word needs to get out into the schools.
The need to educate
“We need to communicate to the children, the kids in school, the real ramifications of their actions,” Casey DeSantis said.
With the video, the first lady said, “we’re empowering the kids with information, so they make the best decision for their future. This a small snippet of what will be provided to the schools across the state at no cost to them.”
“We have to tell our children when they are taking something like a Xanax … we don’t recommend … and if it’s laced with fentanyl, that’s it, that’s the end of their life. There are no do overs,” she said.
The first lady said they are working with the Department of Education to come up with updated standards. They are also holding assemblies, “to give them a good perspective on the crisis. They the kids hear a mother that lost a child to substance abuse, they pause. Or, when they hear from a peer … it resonates with the kids,” she said.
At the assemblies they are also giving curriculum to the students about the perspective for recovering addicts, of somebody who wishes they could go back and change time, but can’t.
She said they also do the law enforcement side and medical side to help educate.
“The context and perspective with which we are giving our students is very important,” she said.
“I’m very excited because of the governor's leadership to put this on the forefront. He’s putting the pedal to the metal to save lives,” she said, noting that out of the $200 million the state is getting from the settlement, $40 million is for prevention measures.
'I had a disease that wanted me dead'
Jenna Shinholster of Santa Rosa Beach, who appeared in the video, was there to share a bit of her story.
“I had a disease that wanted me dead,” Shinholster said.
“I was finally alone … I had lost everything. It was time to do something,” she said.
Shinholster said she got clarity. “God got me alone to see the truth,” she said.
Today she is married and works with the youth group at her church.
“Getting the conversation started is what will help … it can give them hope."
Paula Fredrick of Panama City, who also appears in the video, told of how she lost her daughter to fentanyl in 2021.
“I’ll stand here today and I’ll stand here until I die to see that another mother doesn’t go through this,” she said.
“We’ve got to educate our children to the danger of these drugs,” Fredrick said.
Fredrick explained that her daughter took the drug.
“She took it … had not idea, that she wouldn’t wake up,” she said, noting that her daughter was a medical esthetician.
“This drug crisis doesn’t discriminate. You’ve got have that discussion … they can’t take a Tylenol from a girlfriend … they can’t,” she said.
“I ask you guys to be proactive, and talk about it,” Fredrick said.
Casey DeSantis stepped back up to say, “We’re on a mission to save lives and we’re not going to rest until we’ve done everything in our power to try and prevent something that may happen to you and your family.”
Jimmy Patronis, the state's chief financial officer, was also on hand Friday.
“The last time I was here it wasn’t a church,” Patronis said. The building that now houses Shoreline Church used to be NighTown, where people partied and danced.
“So, it’s appropriate that we’re here today,” he said.
This crisis, “it touches everybody.”
Patronis bragged on the governor.
“This guy doesn’t like fixing problems. He likes preventing problems,” Patronis said.
“Me, personally, I think if you're a fentanyl dealer you should be charged with attempted murder,” Patronis said.
“I appreciate how they lean into prevent problems,” he said.
He also talked about how people are moving to Florida, but that they will not make the move unless it’s safe.
“We’ve got lightning in a bottle … it’s amazing, and people want to be near this leadership.
“We’re making a difference to protect our families and create strong communities,” Patronis said, as the crowd stood up and applauded.
The first lady wrapped up the nearly 45-minute press conference with, “I’m so darn proud to be a Floridian. We’ve only begun to fight.”