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Florida Legislative Roundup: September 2020

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis continue to work to increase treatment resources for residents with substance use or mental disorders, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

In August, ABC affiliate WCJB reported the Governor and Mrs. DeSantis held a round table forum in Seminole County to discuss how the current pandemic has impacted both substance use and mental health. DeSantis explained that while the state continues to work hard to safeguard the public from the virus, he also recognizes the virus has increased substance use.

During another mental health round table held in Altamonte Springs, Maria Bledsoe, CEO of Central Florida Cares Health System and head of the Managing Entity for Central Florida, commended the governor and first lady for “their continuous efforts to raise awareness about the importance of behavioral health care services.” Bledsoe is especially anxious that the state address the needs of low-income Floridians struggling with substance use disorder and mental illness.

Natalie K. Kelly, CEO of the Florida Association of Managing Entities, a group seeking to advance behavioral health services in the state, also thanked the governor and his wife for “continuing to make behavioral health care services a top priority.”

Overdose Deaths Linked to COVID-19

A rise in overdoses and overdose deaths may be linked to the effects of COVID-19. Isolation, anxiety, and a decline in in-person recovery and support services may contribute to the misuse of drugs or alcohol or relapse for those in recovery.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach County reported an increased overdose death 49 percent higher between January and August of 2020 as compared to the same period last year. Since the first of this year, Palm Beach Fire Rescue says it has already administered Narcan, the drug used to reverse an opioid overdose, as often as they did in all of 2019.

Will The Florida Legislature Address These Issues?

Suicide Prevention

  • While CS/SB 7012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health, enacted in July 2020, implemented positive steps toward suicide prevention, more work needs to be done, especially with regard to young adults. A recent survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 25% of respondents ages 18 to 24 had seriously considered suicide during the month prior to the survey.

Telehealth

  • Nearly 30 percent of the patients in Florida’s behavioral health safety net system have used telehealth services since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Florida Association of Managing Entities. CNBC reports that “at least 10 million Medicare beneficiaries have used telehealth since early March, compared with about 13,000 weekly appointments pre-pandemic.”

Since COVID-19 has severely limited in-person health services, the state has temporarily authorized telehealth services for behavioral health programs. Florida Senator Aaron Bean, as well as several bipartisan groups, are lobbying to make certain telehealth services permanent. Policymakers will consider costs and the types of services that are appropriate virtually as they establish a standard of care for such services.

On September 30, 2020, the SAMHSA Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council will hold a virtual public meeting to discuss substance use prevention during the pandemic and related prevention data.

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