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Florida Legislative Roundup for December 2019

Since taking office in January, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken steps to address mental health and substance abuse issues in Florida. In August, we explored the Governor’s plan to re-establish the Office of Drug Control and noted that Florida had received increased federal funds to combat the opioid crisis.

Last month we talked about the state’s actions regarding criminal justice reform, including amendments to the 911 Good Samaritan Act of 2012, to better protect those seeking help during an alcohol or drug overdose.

Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis is equally invested in the education and protection of Florida residents with regard to alcohol and drug use, addiction and mental health issues. On May 16th of this year, she announced her initiative, “Hope for Healing Florida,” a mental health and substance use campaign. This multi-agency plan includes an evaluation of how Florida is currently allocating funds for mental health and substance abuse treatment and determining how that can be improved.

Hope for Healing Initiative 

The Hope for Healing initiative is a collaboration between the Governor’s office, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), Florida Department of Health (DOH), Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Education, and private partners, seeking to more proactively serve the needs of Floridians, especially children, who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse. According to Governor DeSantis, “This program will be a catalyst of change to address the mental health and substance abuse challenges facing our youth and our families.”

“The Facts. Your Future.” Campaign

Included within the Hope for Healing Florida campaign is a “The Facts. Your Future.” campaign geared toward school age children, seeking to educate them on the dangers of drug use and how substance use can ruin lives. The program will initially be tested in Seminole County schools. School assemblies will feature specific information on the dangers of drugs and personal stories from people hurt by drug use.

Attorney General Ashley Moody is vocal in her support of First Lady Casey DeSantis’ campaign to prevent addiction and save the lives of Florida children and families. Attorney General Moody, chair of the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse, states, “From vaping to the opioid crisis we must protect our vulnerable children from the dangers of addiction.”

The program also includes a video contest for middle and high school students, with winning videos to be used as public service announcements. Cash prizes of $1,000 to $5,000 will be awarded to the winning students or groups of students, with matching awards going to their schools.

Additional resources are available to schools at no cost, including a comprehensive toolkit to assist with ongoing drug education.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Another part of the Hope for Healing Florida initiative is the fight against Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this syndrome occurs in newborns exposed to opiate drugs while in the mother’s womb. Drugs like heroin, codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), methadone, or buprenorphine pass to the baby through the placenta, which can cause fetal death or lead the baby to be born with a drug dependency.

According to the Florida Department of Health, in 2018 more than 1,500 children were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Babies born with NAS may experience withdrawal symptoms, as well as early cognitive and motor delays.

The Florida Daily announced DeSantis’ intention to appoint a NAS Statewide Prevention Coordinator to ensure adequate resources and services are available for pregnant women with opioid addiction, as well as earmarking almost $59 million in federal grants over the next three years to fight the opioid crisis.

#StopTheStigma

The #StopTheStigma hashtag is helping to focus attention on the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorder. It is meant to shine a light on the inequity of insurance coverage and raise awareness that these disorders are treatable with the appropriate resources.

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) is a federal law requiring health insurance companies to provide the same level of coverage for mental health and substance use disorders as they do for other major surgeries, chronic diseases or any other long-term health condition.

#StopTheStigma and other Florida advocates say this law is not being enforced in the state of Florida, accusing health insurers of discrimination against those with mental health or substance use disorders. In an effort to tighten regulations on state parity laws, legislators proposed House Bill 955 last year, which died in committee.

Natasha A. Pierre, vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hillsborough, stated, “If people got the treatment, the help, the support they needed the first time around, there wouldn’t be as high a rate of people returning to hospitals and returning to rehabs and Baker Acts, we just wouldn’t see it.”

According to the NAMI, “it is up to each state’s insurance commissioner to enforce the federal parity law. So far, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) has not taken the necessary steps to make discrimination in mental health insurance coverage a thing of the past.”

Channel 10 News published a response from the OIR, stating, in part, “OIR updated its review processes for individual and group health insurance policies and contracts for compliance with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act (MHPAEA).

Florida’s Prescription Drug Importation Program

Recognizing that Floridians often pay outrageously high prices for prescription drugs, Governor DeSantis signed Florida’s Prescription Drug Importation Program into law on June 12, 2019. This law allows importation of lower-priced, high quality prescription drugs from approved sources. On August 2nd of this year, the Governor submitted plans for implementation to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stating he was “pleased to announce that our state is one step closer to realizing true cost savings on safe, high quality prescription drugs from Canada.”

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.