Citing Palm Beach County, Nelson urges lawmakers to save funding for opioid epidemic

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues not to take up any legislation that would reduce money and efforts  to combat the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.

United States Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in 2013 in West Palm Beach. (Madeline Gray/The Palm Beach Post)

“Opioid abuse is a deadly, serious problem and we cannot ignore it,” he said. “We should be investing more resources into helping these people and their families, not cutting them at a time that we need it the most.”

Nelson’s speech,  which mentions Palm Beach County, come as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on a new health care bill that would reduce federal funding for Medicaid, which funds one fourth of the country’s substance abuse programs.

“In addition to the devastating loss of life and the challenges for the new caregivers, opioid abuse is straining local and state budgets,” Nelson said before mentioning efforts by vice mayor Melissa McKinlay to fight the crisis.

“Just last month the vice mayor of Palm Beach County sent a  letter to the governor urging to declare a public health emergency in Florida, citing the loss of life and financial impact, in this case, to Palm Beach County.”

Congress voted last year to provide additional funding to help fight the growing epidemic after more than 2,000 Floridians died in 2015 from an opioid overdose.

Nelson spoke for nearly 9 minutes. His speech can be seen here.

Here is the full transcript of Nelson’s speech:

Madam President, there has been a lot of conversation from so many of our fellow senators about the opioid crisis that has been devastating individuals and families across the country.

We heard this particularly in New Hampshire as it was a topic of discussion last fall during the election. It was an opportunity to bring to the nation’s attention because of the eyes being focused first on the New Hampshire primary of a real opioid crisis. Well, what we also then discussed was it wasn’t just affecting a few states. It was affecting most of the states. And that is the case with my state of Florida.

Addiction to opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015 more than 33,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdose. That’s 15% more people than had died just the previous year.  And I don’t have the figures for last year 2016.

And so Florida, is right there in that national trend. What Florida saw between 2014 and 2015 was a 22.7% increase. It’s staggering because in that year Florida suffered over 2,000 deaths from opioid overdose.

Earlier this month our office interviewed a woman from Florida’s Aging Committee hearing — we interviewed a lady from Florida for yesterday’s Aging Committee’s hearing, and she is caring for her 7-year-old grandson because his mother lost custody, was later incarcerated due to her drug addiction.

And sadly this story is all too familiar. The number of grandparents serving as the primary caretakers for their grandchildren is increasing as was the case with the lady from Florida who testified at the Aging Committee hearing this week. They are primary caretakers for their grandchildren, and it’s in large part because of the opioid epidemic.

In addition to the devastating loss of life and the challenges for the new caregivers, opioid abuse is straining local and state budgets. Just last month the vice mayor of Palm Beach County sent a  letter to the governor urging to declare a public health emergency in Florida, citing the loss of life and financial impact, in this case, to Palm Beach County.

Yesterday several of my colleagues and I sent a letter to the majority leader, majority leader of the Senate, highlighting some of our concerns with the House of Representatives health care bill that I call Trumpcare and how it’s going to impact those with substance abuse and disorders. Because one of the things that we’re most concerned about is how the proposed changes in Medicaid that they’re going to vote at the other end of the hall right down here tomorrow, they’re going to vote on the House of Representatives health care Trumpcare bill, the changes that they make to Medicaid, it would prevent states from being able to respond to the opioid crisis because Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against opioids.

But changing the Medicaid program to a block grant or a cap is going to shift cost to the states. The states are not going to pick up that additional cost. It’s going to eliminate also some of the federal protections and it’s only going to hurt our people who rely on Medicaid to help them as we are combating this opioid crisis.

Because with less federal funding, how are states like mine going to provide the necessary services to help individuals with the substance abuse and the disorders. Congress ought to be doing more to help this crisis, not less.

And how many times have you heard a senator like this senator come to the floor and talk about the opioid epidemic? And yet we’re just about to do it to ourselves if we were to pass this Trumpcare bill.

Remember last year while so many of us, including this senator, were early supporters of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016? It was signed into law last year. The law takes a comprehensive approach to this opioid problem.

A few months ago a lot of us including this senator voted to provide additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law to fight the opioid addictions. And despite this progress, now the House tomorrow, probably tomorrow night is about to pass legislation that would completely undermine last year’s bipartisan efforts to respond to the epidemic and to undercut the health care for millions of people in this country.

Opioid abuse is a deadly, serious problem and we cannot ignore it. We should be investing more resources into helping these people and their families, not cutting them at a time that we need it the most.

So, again, I make a plea. We made progress last year with the law. We passed the new law. We made progress giving some additional funding. Now, the crisis hasn’t gone away. We still need to respond but at the very same time what we see happening to the Medicaid program – eliminating Medicaid as we know it, health care for the people that are then least fortunate among us, we’re about to cut back on all that progress that we made on this opioid crisis. I hope that we will think better of this and not do it to ourselves.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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