Florida budget plan cuts funding for opioid addiction-fighting drug

Jacksonville addiction specialist 'can't wrap my brain around it'


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s clear the Florida Legislature is going to spend money to address what is being described as an opioid “crisis,” but two House budget panels last week moved to cut funding that Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron agreed on last year for one of the most effective tools against opioid addiction: Vivitrol.

Vivitrol helps people addicted to heroin or opioid pills by blocking brain receptors. Unlike some opioid addiction medications, it doesn’t help patients with pain. It only helps stem cravings. The most effective version is a once-monthly injection that addicts can receive on the way out of rehab or jail.

WJCT 89.9FM News reported that House Health and Criminal Justice budget chairs are proposing a total funding cut for Vivitrol programs of $7 million, more than $5 million of which comes from corrections programs, while the remainder comes from partially state-funded community treatment programs.

Dr. Raymond Pomm, a Jacksonville addiction specialist leading a treatment pilot program at St. Vincent’s Riverside hospital, "just can't wrap my brain around it."

“We need all the tools available to us to combat this epidemic, not start cutting back. In fact, there’s not enough money out there for services,” Pomm told WJCT's Ryan Benk. “We’ve known that for quite a while, and to start reducing what little money there is.”

House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur included $50 million in opioid-related funding across a variety of program areas, but the proposed budget he released Tuesday also would eliminate $1.5 million in recurring funding for Vivitrol, manufactured by Dublin-based Alkermes. And Rep. Bill Hager, chairman of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, zapped $5.5 million in increased Vivitrol funding in the courts and criminal-justice system.

Alkermes made $79,000 in campaign contributions in 2017, including contributing $10,000 to a political committee controlled by former Sen. Jack Latvala, who was Senate budget chairman at the time. The company also donated $10,000 to a committee run by Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican. In the two years before the 2016 elections, Alkermes contributed $50,000 to Negron and political committees he controlled or was affiliated with.

Gov. Rick Scott included $53 million in his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year for opioid treatment and prevention, about $27 million of which is federal funds. Though the governor and Senate don’t always see eye to eye, the Senate would appropriate about $53 million to opioid funding for the coming year, said Sen. Anitere Flores, the point person in the chamber on health-care spending.

Meanwhile both the House and Senate have agreed to pump nearly $1 million into updates for the prescription drug monitoring program.


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