Florida Surgeon General: Why Zika declared emergency but not heroin crisis

Florida Surgeon General said she has not ruled out declaring a public health emergency for the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Celeste Philip said a public health emergency declaration must be linked to an action plan to address the emergency. That, she added, is why the four-stop listening tour she is on with other top agency officials is so important. Hearing how the hardest hit communities are dealing with the crisis will help in creating that plan, she said.

“Nothing is off the table,” Dr. Philip said in an interview after the second stop on the tour in Sarasota on Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ordered the tour in response to rising death rates and calls for him to declare a public health crisis.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip

Asked why she quickly issued a public health emergency when mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were discovered in Florida, she said it was because it was easier to draft a plan to prevent spread of the virus: Kill mosquitoes that carry it. 

The opioid crisis is much more complex, she said: “We’re dealing with two different kinds of situations. The opioid crisis is very complex.”

In her comments in West Palm Beach and Sarasota, Dr. Philip emphasized the need to educate physicians and medical students about the hazards of prescribing opioids and alternative protocols to manage pain. In particular, pressing medical schools to develop curriculum about addiction and pain management – topics that were barely addressed during her medical training. 

The tour began Monday at the West Palm Beach Police Department, where Dr. Philip, DCF Sec. Mike Carrol and over a dozen other state officials were greeted by protesters demanding action. About 250 recovering addicts, advocates and friends and family of overdose victims crammed into a meeting room at the department.

By contrast, Tuesday’s meeting in Sarasota was quiet. No protests or cat-calls from the crowd of about 100 during the 2-hour meeting. The group headed to Orlando for another meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The final meeting is in Jacksonville on Wednesday. 

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