health care

Good pot cop, bad pot cop?

With all of the tension between the House and Senate, it’s unlikely that there’s a coordinated effort between the chambers regarding the treatment of Florida pot czar Christian Bax.

But it seems there’s a good cop, bad cop thing going on.

After a major spanking by a Senate committee earlier this year, the House Health Quality Subcommittee gave Bax the kid-glove treatment this morning.

And a key member of the panel, Rep. Ralph Massullo even acknowledged it.

“I know you got beat up in the Senate but we try to do things more in the House with martial arts, where the effect is the same but we use less force,” Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a doctor, said.

Senators were furious with Bax over delays in issuing new medical marijuana licenses, which Bax, the director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, blamed on pending legal challenges. The Senate Health Quality Committee

“I’m not buying that just because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these additional licenses,” Senate Health Quality Committee Chairwoman Dana Young, a lawyer, scolded Bax during an appearance before her panel last month.

Senate committees have also been frustrated about delays patients are facing in getting their ID cards from Bax’s shop. Patients have to be cleared by Bax’s office before they can obtain the medical marijuana treatment.

The House committee this morning spent a good chunk of time querying Bax about the ID cards, but much more gently than his treatment by its Senate counterpart.

Bax blamed delays in the issuing the ID cards on a couple of things, mostly having to do with paper.

The company that processes electronic payments for the state won’t handle the $75 charge for the ID cards, so patients are forced to pay by check, which takes longer, Bax said.

And there’s a bid war going on regarding the outsourcing of the ID cards. A losing bidder is protesting the Department of Health’s selection of a vendor to process and produce the ID cards. That probably won’t be resolved until February, according to health officials.

Of the 52,000 patients in the medical marijuana registry, about 31,000 have received ID cards. Another 17,000 haven’t applied for one, after being entered into the registry by their doctor, Bax said.

About 4,500 patients are “moving through that process” of applying for a card, he said, eschewing the word “backlog” when asked about it.

Bax said he’s hired 19 new employees and 18 temp workers, and all but three of them are devoted to handling the cards.

“Any time a person has to lay hands on a piece of paper, scan it, sort it, organize it…Anytime that happens, it takes time and resources to do,” he said. “So patients watching at home, please apply on line.”

 

 

Nation’s deputy AG blames opioid crisis on docs and big pharma

Gov. Rick Scott’s boasted about the $53 million in his budget proposal targeted toward the state’s opioid epidemic.

But more than half of that money — $27 million — is from a federal grant.

It’s the second year of the “State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis” grant in Florida, which the feds recently approved, according to a state Department of Children and Families deputy secretary who spoke at a House committee meeting last week.

Like Scott, his pal President Donald Trump and his administration have targeted the opioid crisis as public health crisis.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made at the 50 State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C., this morning. (Maybe his boss, AG Jeff Sessions, was tied up nearby testifying before a House panel).

We are also facing the challenges resulting from the unprecedented opioid crisis.  The news is full of heartbreaking stories of parents burying their teenage children, of Neonatal Intensive Care Units overflowing with opioid-addicted babies, of EMS workers racing from one drug overdose to another, and of medical examiners running short of resources to handle the somber extra business.

The overdose numbers are astounding.  In 1990, there were 8,000 deaths. The rate was relatively constant as a proportion of the American population for decades.  Then it increased approximately 700 percent over the next 26 years.

In 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.  On average, that means during this speech – another American will have died from a drug overdose.  This is unacceptable.

Opioids are driving this increase in overdose deaths.  The opioid problem began several years ago when doctors — aided by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies — began overprescribing and diverting powerful prescription opioids.

In some instances, the doctors were untrained and unaware of the addictive nature of the drugs they were prescribing.  In other instances, the doctors were little more than drug dealers with advanced degrees. They operated “pill mills” where medical care was nonexistent, cash was king, and prescription opioids flowed freely.

Our newest challenge is fentanyl, a synthetic drug produced primarily in China. It is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.  It is so powerful that a quantity equal to a few grains of table salt can kill a person.

Chinese chemists try to stay a step ahead of law enforcement by making chemical analogues of fentanyl, such as carfentanil. It is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. In fact, carfentanil is intended as an elephant tranquilizer. It is manufactured in Chinese laboratories, shipped to the United States or Mexico, mixed with heroin, and then sold to addicts who are often unaware of what they are ingesting. Just last week, the DEA announced its intent to emergency schedule these fentanyl analogues.  This is a major step in cracking down on these deadly drugs.

The President recently declared that the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”  The declaration will redirect federal resources to help fund treatment efforts.

At the Department of Justice, we use every tool at our disposal to stop the rise in violence and to end the drug crisis.

Philip “I’m like Lincoln” Levine takes to airwaves to promote Obamacare

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat who recently announced his formal entrée into the race for governor, is hitching his wagon to President Barack Obama and his signature health care reform, the Affordable Care Act.

Levine launched a “five-week, six-figure” statewide radio campaign this week to encourage Floridians to sign up for the health care benefits before the open enrollment period runs out on Dec. 15, according to a press release issued by his campaign this morning.

In the ads, in both English and Spanish, Levine praises Obama and likens himself to another president.

“Like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that here in America, we do have inalienable rights to liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness. I’m adding one more – the right to health care,” he says.

Rene Garcia on mental health & substance abuse: “Americans are hurting”

The day after a mass shooting in Texas, a Florida state senator promised on Monday to be “more vocal” about the state’s mental health and substance abuse needs.

Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee Chairman Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, said legislators need to focus on more than just a partisan debate over gun control.

“It’s far too easy for us to go to our corners and say we either need more gun control or less gun controls. But the reality is Americans are hurting,’’ Garcia said.  “And if we look at the common denominator for most of these shootings, it’s always lack of a mental health diagnosis or someone who did not receive mental health treatment. We can no longer move on in society until we start addressing this fundamental issue and stop ignoring it.”

Garcia’s committee oversees the agencies responsible for providing mental health and substance abuse services in the state.

Speaking to an audience of lobbyists and interested parties, Garcia asked them to bring him recommendations and suggestions on improvements that can be made.  But he warned them against asking the Legislature simply for more money, saying the Senate “gets it” that there is additional need for residential treatment beds.

Now is the time “to figure out what the next step  is,” Garcia said.

“Whether it’s dealing with  managed care companies, more mandates or less mandates, making sure that we stop over-prescribing medications to our citizens, whatever the case may be. I just don’t want it to be all about the money situation,” he said.

Armed with an assault-style rifle and a handgun, 26-year-old-Devin Patrick Kelley on Sunday opened fired inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 churchgoers and injuring 20 others. Police said the shooting was related to a domestic dispute and that it wasn’t motivated by race or religion.

By Christine Sexton.

Bondi, other AGs target drug industry in opioid probe

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other attorneys general are targeting drug manufacturers and distributors as well as the insurance industry, in an effort to address the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the country, with 52,404 fatal overdoses reported in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid addiction drove the epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 deaths related to heroin.

Florida, where overdose deaths have spiked over the past two years, is one of the epicenters of the opioid crisis, fueled in part by the widespread use of fentanyl, a deadly painkiller sometimes mixed with heroin.

Bondi and a group of attorneys general are demanding documents and information from pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors related to their opioid business.

The information requests are part of an effort by 41 states to crack down on the opioid crisis.

Bondi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the White House’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has made prescription drug abuse one of her top priorities since she took office in 2011.

“Florida citizens continue to become addicted to opioids and die daily—meanwhile, prescription drug manufacturers, distributors and the medical profession all point fingers at each other as the cause of this national crisis,” Bondi said in a press release issued Tuesday. “This far-reaching multistate investigation is designed to get the answers we need as quickly as possible. The industry must do the right thing. If they do not, we are prepared to litigate.”

On Monday, Bondi joined a separate group of attorneys general who want insurers to make it easier for patients to receive alternative pain management treatments.

Another Fla Dems-backed TV ad starring Trump

Florida Dems are unleashing a TV ad using the man who is sure to become Democrats’ most popular whipping boy — President Donald Trump — in the battle for an open Miami-Dade County state Senate seat.

Democrat Annette Taddeo and Republican Jose Felix Diaz are duking it out over SD 40 after emerging as the winners in last month’s special election primaries. The redrawn Senate seat became available when former state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican, was forced to step down after a profanity-laced and racially charged outburst at a private club midway through this year’s legislative session.

The ad, released in English and Spanish in the district where 75 percent of the population is Hispanic, links Diaz — a supporter of the president who once appeared on his TV show, “The Apprentice” — opens with Taddeo watching the now-infamous clip of Trump slamming a bad guy in a WWF stunt.

“Families are too busy to worry about this drama,” Taddeo says, after turning off the TV.

She later alleges that “Jose Felix Diaz supports Trump’s every move,” highlighting services for seniors and coverage of pre-existing medical conditions that would be lost if Trump gets his way and kills the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”

The Florida Democratic Party announced the launch of the ad not long after national Dems said they intend to fork over $150,000 in the SD 40 race.

Yesterday, state Democrats released an ad tying former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker to Trump. Baker is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Rick Kriseman.

Jeb Bush, Dr. Oz, urge Trump to deem opioid crisis a national emergency

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and TV sensation Mehmet Oz, better known as “Dr. Oz,” are urging President Donald Trump to declare the opioid epidemic sweeping the country a national emergency.

Bush, Oz and a handful of advocates penned an op-ed for HuffPost, urging the president to heed the advice of the White House Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, created by Trump earlier this year.

“The declaration of a National Emergency would give this epidemic the full attention it deserves and allow states to access federal resources to act swiftly and definitively to save the lives of more than 33,000 Americans annually through evidence-based treatments and programs that have been proven to work,” Bush and the others wrote.

Jim Hood, CEO of Facing Addiction, was among those pleading with Trump to take action.

The non-profit organization has launched an online campaign asking people to sign a letter to Trump — who’ll get a briefing on the issue today from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — and the members of the commission asking for a national emergency declaration.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican mulling a run for governor, will help host an event in Palm Beach County today focused on curbing deadly opioid abuse in Florida, one of the state’s hardest hit by what some advocates are calling a pandemic.