BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday discussed the rollout and planned expansion of a multi-county opioid recovery network.
Speaking at a news conference at the Space Coast Health Foundation in Rockledge, DeSantis said the program — a collaboration between the Florida Department of Health and the state Department of Children and Families — was designed to break the cycle of addiction by providing ongoing treatment to those at risk of relapse.
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“This network will be able to streamline resources and break down barriers for those battling addiction. The three-prong approach to recovery includes, yes, the important rescue response that our EMTs do and in those fields, people that are in medical stabilization and assessment of the individual patient and long-term treatment so that they can live productive lives without constantly relapsing and staying on this hamster wheel of addiction,” DeSantis said.
According to the governor, the Coordinated Opioid Recovery network, AKA CORE, will reach Brevard, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Gulf, Marion, Pasco, Manatee and Volusia counties in Phase 1, with coverage set to include Citrus, Flagler and Pinellas counties in Phase 2. The counties were chosen due to a demonstrated need for the services, DeSantis said.
“We don’t want Floridians to receive overdose treatment and then simply be sent back into the world for this to happen all over again, so we’re trying to give them the tools they need to navigate their path to a productive, drug-free future,” DeSantis said.
CORE, which the governor’s office said was successfully piloted in Palm Beach County for two years, will be overseen by Florida’s first statewide director of opioid recovery. At the news conference Wednesday, DeSantis welcomed Dr. Courtney Phillips to that role, an adult psychologist who currently serves as director of behavioral health for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.
“Our state and community didn’t choose this epidemic, but today we choose to treat this medical and psychiatric illness like any other, with access, evidence-based care and life-long, comprehensive treatment. Thank you, and let’s get to work,” Phillips said.
DeSantis was joined by Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, deputy secretary for health at the Florida Department of Health and Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo.
Scheppke discussed how the program will work, describing opioid addiction as a disease and characterizing the program’s recovery timeline as one that mimics the trauma system of care.
“Patients that have a problem, they can call 911 whether they overdose or even if they don’t overdose. The emergency care providers will arrive, will have specialized protocols, will be careful to minimize the risk of putting patients into acute withdrawal that we brought to a specialty hospital,” Scheppke said. “The patient will be stabilized, both from their substance use disorder standpoint as well as any coexisting medical issues they may have, mental health issues that they may have, and then very importantly because this is a life-long disease, they’ll be placed into a long-term care facility with all the multiple specialties that you need for this complex disease.”
Brevard county, where Governor DeSantis chose to announce the expansion of the program, is one of the top counties in Florida for drug overdose cases.
It’s a problem that is personal to Stanley Brizz, the executive director of the Brevard Prevention Coalition. He told News 6 he lost his best friend in 2008 to an overdose.
“That just really affected me really deeply, and I wanted to discover how we can avoid that pain if possible for families and for loved ones,” Brizz said.
Brizz, who is also a counselor, said he later became inspired to create change professionally, as well.
The Brevard Prevention Coalition is a not-for-profit corporation that provides resources to families dealing with substance abuse issues.
“I met another parent last week that lost both of her children,” Brizz said. “And it was fentanyl both times.”
Brizz said he supports any effort by the state that will provide more resources in his community.
“I’m glad that they are mobilizing such an active response to it,” Brizz said.
He said there is always more work that can be done, especially to help younger generations.
“The majority of clients that I speak to when I’m doing my counseling, they started using at 12 or 13 (years old). I say the majority, probably 90 to 95%,” he said.
Brizz added it is also important to address substance abuse problems at the jail level so that when people are booked, they can receive the help they need. He also said it would be beneficial to provide more resources in emergency rooms so that patients with substance abuse problems are not just treated and released.
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