State senator blasts Palm Beach Post, calls reporting ‘criminal’

State Sen. Bobby Powell blasted The Palm Beach Post’s recent report on fraud in the 2016 August primary election Tuesday night, saying the reporting in a Sunday story “should be criminal.”

At a public forum, Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet took aim at The Post and State Attorney’s Office investigators looking into absentee ballot fraud in the primary election. Detectives found nearly two dozen fraudulent signatures on absentee ballot request forms but couldn’t identify a suspect, The Post reported.

State Rep. Al Jacquet, left, and state Sen. Bobby Powell at a legislative wrap-up forum on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

“It’s distasteful,” Powell told the audience of roughly 80 people. “It should be criminal that newspapers can print something like that and implicate.”

EXCLUSIVE: Read The Post’s report into last year’s primary election

Jacquet took aim at the detectives who questioned voters, calling their behavior “criminal” and “unconstitutional.” Fourteen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives were assigned to interview voters.

“Someone comes to your door in uniform, bangs on your door and says, ‘Who did you vote for? How did you vote for them? Why did you vote for them? Did they give you anything to vote for them?'” Jacquet said. “This is not only criminal, this is unconstitutional civil rights violations. This is singling out one group of folks and literally intimidating them, suppressing their right to vote.”

Powell said the story was “flawed.”

“The story was not truthful, and it was done in order to damage the credibility of myself, (County Commissioner) Mack Bernard and Al Jacquet,” he said.

VOTER FRAUD: Read the State Attorney’s investigation into the primary election

Jacquet received enthusiastic applause after he said that voter suppression tactics wouldn’t work in the next election.

I guarantee you that’s not going to happen,” Jacquet said. “We’re just getting started.”

The Post on Sunday reported that prosecutors were ending their investigation into voter fraud in the August primary, despite finding 22 people whose signatures were forged on absentee ballot request forms.

The reason the case was dropped is because the lead detectives on the case, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant and West Palm Beach detective assigned to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, couldn’t find a suspect.

Detectives didn’t follow up on basic leads, didn’t interview people who might have known about the fraud and waited eight months before following up with voters who made complaints.

Detectives also never followed up on The Post’s March story, in which voters said Jacquet and Bernard went into their homes, helped them fill out their ballots and collected them. Collecting other people’s ballots is a felony, the report states.

Powell, who said he brought copies of the report to Tuesday’s forum, said that the state attorney’s report does not “in any point indicate that our campaigns were under investigation.”

Read how 30% of Florida’s voting is ripe for fraud

The report does not mention Powell, and only mentions Bernard and Jacquet briefly.

But 17 of the 22 victims, which included a state attorney’s employee and her three family members, were in a narrow area where Jacquet’s, Powell’s and Bernard’s districts intersect.

And the only “person of interest” in the case was Delano Allen, whom detectives never interviewed. He was seen on video dropping off bundles of absentee ballot request forms.

Detectives never mentioned in their report that Allen is Powell’s longtime legislative aide.

Powell on Tuesday came to Allen’s defense, saying that other people must have been dropping off ballot request forms for other campaigns, too.

Delano Allen is my legislative aide,” he said, gesturing toward Allen. “In the paper they indicated that he dropped off ballot requests, almost saying that’s illegal. I’m sure that during the election season, that many Democratic clubs, Republican clubs, many other people dropped off absentee ballot requests. But when it came down to implicating him as to turning in one ballot, he turned in none. That was not reported. Unacceptable.”

It’s not illegal to drop off ballot request forms. The report does not mention Allen turning in absentee ballots. That would be illegal.

After he made his remarks, Powell criticized a Post reporter, telling the reporter that the newspaper didn’t mention that detectives found six fraudulent absentee ballots, which were from outside his district.

But detectives actually found that the ballots were not fraudulent.

“It was determined that 6 absentee ballots were possibly altered, forged, or obtained in a fraudulent way,” the report states. “It was determined through the course of the investigation that there was no criminal activity associated with these absentee ballots.”

After Powell spoke, Jacquet questioned why the three Democrats were even singled out for absentee ballots.

When you go to the division of elections and see the number of absentee ballots that counted in the recent election, the number has continued to skyrocket, because voters are now realizing that they don’t have to stand in line for two, three hours,” he said. “Why single out one group?”

But the candidates’ performance in absentee ballots was well above normal. Their opponents cried foul, and elections experts considered the results suspicious.

In some precincts, Bernard and Jacquet won nine of every 10 absentee ballots cast. They also drastically outperformed the top-ticket U.S. Senate candidates. In one Boynton Beach precinct, for example, 135 more people voted for Jacquet than for all the U.S. Senate candidates combined.

“When you have that type of down-ballot voting that exceeds the top of the ticket, it raises some suspicions,” University of Florida professor Daniel Smith told The Post in March.

Tuesday’s event was intended to give constituents a wrap-up of the Legislative session. But Powell said they first had to address the “elephant in the room.”

The audience included various local elected officials and former candidates, including Edwin Ferguson, a lawyer who lost to Jacquet in the August Democratic primary.

Ferguson actually beat Jacquet at the polls by 132 votes. But Jacquet’s extraordinary 1,167-vote edge in absentee votes easily won him the race.

Ferguson, who is running for the county School Board District 7 seat, declined to address the controversy on Wednesday.

“We came up short,” Ferguson said. “We’ll try to do better next time.”

County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay honored for efforts to fight opioid epidemic

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay has been honored by the Florida Association of Counties for her efforts to help communities across the state deal with the opioid epidemic.

FAC President Kathy Bryant presents the award to Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay at the Legislative Awards Luncheon held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on June 28, 2017. (Handout photo)

At a ceremony Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, McKinlay received the Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award, which is presented to a county elected official who has shown extraordinary leadership.

“Her commitment to opioid abuse saw success with additional federal and state funding as well as tougher penalties,’’ FAC President Kathy Bryant said as she presented the award to McKinlay.

On Thursday, Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order extending his public health emergency declaration on the opioid crisis for another 60 days. McKinlay had sent him a letter earlier this month requesting the extension.

McKinlay also was among the first public officials in the state to lobby Scott for the initial declaration, which he issued May 3. She helped persuade the commission in April to adopt an initial $3 million plan to address the crisis.

McKinlay ramped up her efforts to fight the epidemic after the overdose death of her chief aide’s adult daughter in 2016.

McKinlay will be the keynote speaker Aug. 31 in Boca Raton at a rally to observe International Overdose Awareness Day. She will speak as a guest of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. The rally will be held at Florida Atlantic University from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award is named after the late Marlene Young, who served as a County Commissioner in Polk County from 1988-2000. She was a founding member of the Florida Counties Foundation, and in 1993 she became President of FAC.

 

Opioid crisis: Lake Worth art and film festival in July aims to raise awareness

A film and art festival aimed at raising awareness to the opioid epidemic will be held next month in downtown Lake Worth.

Set for July 7-9, the Art of Recovery Film Festival and Art Exhibit will feature paintings, photographs and films created by people in recovery.

Manny Mendez, Vic James and Mark Sanchez, co-organizers of the festival, stand by an illustration made by Mendez about people lost to addiction. (Photo by Joe Capozzi)

“It is our mission to restore hope and bring awareness through artistic expressions,” said Manny Mendez, co-organizer of the festival with Vic Guy and Mark Sanchez.

Paintings and photographs will be displayed at the Armory Art Center Annex, 1121 Lucerne Ave. Films will be shown at the Stonzek Theater next to the Lake Worth Playhouse.

Admission is free. Proceeds from the sale of artwork will benefit Restoration Bridge and The Fellowship Foundation Recovery Community Organization.

Local artists are welcome to create and showcase during the festival. For more information, go to the festival’s webpage or call Mendez at 561 889 7230.

“The entire concept and each artistic medium is recovery-focused,’’ said Mendez, who wants the festival to “inspire hope in the lives of many struggling with addiction issues.

He hopes to festival educates people “who are not familiar with the addiction and recovery process” and helps “lift the stigma around addiction

Opioids crisis: Medical Examiner loses key doctor as caseload keeps rising

Palm Beach County commissioners could be asked again this year to add more positions to help the Medical Examiner’s Office keep pace with a rising caseload driven by the opioid epidemic.

A new associate medical examiner and a new technician will start July 3, roughly three months after county commissioners approved the addition of those two positions.

>> HEROIN: Killer of a generation

>> Palm Beach County takes steps to attack heroin epidemic

But the office recently lost a key position when one of its doctors left to take a job with the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. That means the new doctor that starts on July 3 will essentially replace the doctor who left, keeping the Palm Beach County’s Medical Examiner’s Office at five doctors instead of six.

“It will be some time before the newly added position will help reduce the examiner workload,’’ deputy county administrator Jon Van Arnam said Thursday in an email to commissioners.

“The number of new cases continues to increase at an unprecedented rate, stressing staff and the system. If this trend continues, it could necessitate us returning to the (County Commission) for additional positions later this year or early next year.’’

Dr. Michael Bell, Palm Beach County medical examiner.

To help reduce the possibility of losing more doctors, Van Arnam has suggested the county’s Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Bell, conduct a salary and benefits survey.

“Pay and benefits are key factors in our ability to attract and retain qualified medical staff and investigators,’’ Van Arnam said in the email.

At the meeting in April about the opioid epidemic, county commissioners also approved a third position – an executive level drug czar – to oversee the county’s response to the drug crisis. That position could be filled later this year.

“This position is still being developed,’’ Van Arnam said.

“We are determining how to best (use) this position in coordination with key partners including the Health Care District, Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and PBSO. We understand the urgency of this situation and will keep you informed of our progress.’’

Last year, the caseload for the Medical Examiner’s Office topped 2,000 for the first time.

“That’s a 60 percent increase in the last two years, which is almost exclusively due to these opioid overdoses,’’ Bell told county commissioners in April.

“It’s not like we’re getting more homicides. We’re not getting more heart attacks, more elder falls and head trauma. This is all due to opioid fatalities.”

MORE: Opioid overdose deaths double to nearly 600: ‘I don’t see any stop’

Opioid epidemic: Rick Scott declares public health emergency

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a statewide public health emergency over the opioid epidemic, in response to multiple requests for help from local leaders.

Scott’s decision came after the last of four state workshops on the opioid crisis this morning in Duval County. State officials held their first workshop Monday in West Palm Beach followed by two on Tuesday in Manatee and Orange counties.

Many people who attended the workshops called for him to declare a public health emergency.

“Finally,” said Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who made the first request for a public health emergency back in February.

“Today I feel relief. relief that the voices of so many were finally heard. For the pain of loss so many families have faced, to those struggling to overcome addition,” she said.

“I am hopeful that the governor’s direction to declare a public health crisis in response to the opioid epidemic will open the door to a truly meaningful plan to fight this disease.”

McKinlay’s request, which triggered other leaders to send similar requests, came after The Palm Beach Post published a special section examining the crisis. That section, Heroin: Killer of a generation, was published days after the daughter of McKinlay’s chief aide died of a drug overdose.

“This emergency declaration is important to combat the epidemic in our communities,” said Jupiter Vice Mayor Ilan Kaufer, who helped spearhead a declaration request by the Palm Beach County League of Cities in March.

“I am thankful to all the local leaders and community members who supported efforts to let the Governor know how important this step was in saving lives.”

Check back later for updates on this developing story.

Here is a press release issued minutes ago by Scott’s office:

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring a national opioid epidemic, Governor Rick Scott signed Executive Order 17-146 directing a Public Health Emergency across the state. By signing the Emergency Order, it will allow the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Opioid State Targeted Response Grant which was awarded to Florida on April 21 to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Without the order, it would have taken months for the state to distribute these funds to local communities. In addition to declaring a Public Health Emergency, Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip will issue a standing order for Naloxen, an emergency treatment for opioid overdose. This will ensure first responders have immediate access to this lifesaving drug to respond to opioid overdoses.

 

Governor Scott said, “Today, I issued an executive order which allows the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding which will immediately be distributed to communities across the state to deal with the opioid epidemic. HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price awarded the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant to Florida and I want to thank the Trump Administration for their focus on this national epidemic. I have also directed State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare a Public Health Emergency and issue a standing order for Naloxone in response to the opioid epidemic in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott

“Last month, I directed the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange Counties to identify additional strategies to fight the rising opioid usage cases in Florida. They have gotten a lot of feedback this week and we will continue to look at additional ways we can fight this national epidemic which has taken the lives of many Floridians.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up. The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help. Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “This declaration will help strengthen our continued efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic claiming lives in Florida by providing additional funding to secure prevention, treatment and recovery support services. I want to thank Governor Rick Scott for his continued partnership in combating drug abuse in our state; from shutting down pill mills to outlawing deadly synthetic drugs, Governor Scott has long supported efforts by my office and law enforcement to raise awareness, stop drug abuse and save lives.”

 

Governor’s opioid workshop in Palm Beach County set for May 1

Palm Beach County will be the first of four counties visited by state officials next month in their plan to seek ideas for combating the opioid crisis.

Palm Beach County’s “community workshop” is set for May 1, according to an email from the Department of children and Families.

It will be held from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the West Palm Beach Police headquarters, 600 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Two counties will have workshops on May 2 — Manatee and Orange counties. Duval County’s workshop will be May 3.

The workshops, announced Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, will be hosted by DCF, the state Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Similar to many communities across the nation, Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval, and Orange counties are facing an increase in opioid-related deaths,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in an email sent to local officials.

“DCF, DOH, and FDLE will host community workshops with local leaders, law enforcement, health directors, treatment providers and community members.

“Community workshops will provide important opportunities for DCF, DOH and FDLE to directly hear the specific needs of affected communities as well as provide information on existing resources, best parctices and grant opportunities.”

 

 

Opioid crisis: Sen. Marco Rubio pledges to help in meeting with Palm Beach County leaders

Sen. Marco Rubio met in West Palm Beach today with local leaders to discuss “the devastation caused by opioid addiction in our communities.’’

The private meeting, held in State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office with members of the Palm Beach County’s heroin and sober homes task forces, covered the rise in opioid deaths, addiction treatment needs and sober home issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio (to the right of the American flag) with Palm Beach County leaders at the State Attorney’s office in West Palm Beach today. (Photo courtesy Sen. Marco Rubio)

“It’s important that we continue working together with state and local officials to identify and root out fraud and hold bad providers accountable, so that the people who seek help aren’t being taken advantage of,’’ Rubio said in a statement.

“And we must do more to stop the flow of fentanyl and carfentanil across our borders, which is what the bipartisan legislation I’ve introduced with my colleagues in the Senate would address.’’

Attendees included Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath; Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department; Palm Beach County commissioner Melissa McKinlay; Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Houston Park; and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio.

“This epidemic requires all hands on deck and I appreciate Senator Rubio’s commitment to partner with our Task Force and local leaders on this effort,’’ Aronberg said in a statement.

Marco Rubio (AP Photo)

Rubio is co-sponsoring federal grants, through the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, to help local governments and certain nonprofits in Florida intervene with people suffering from substance abuse. The grant deadline is April 25.

McKinlay, who has helped lead the fight for local help with the crisis, said Rubio told attendees he would try to get federal money for pilot programs to ease the opioid crisis.

He also said he would talk to the Department of Justice about more help for local communities seeking to enact local laws aimed at protecting neighborhoods from rogue sober homes.

“I was very inspired about how educated he was on the issues,’’ McKinlay said.

Heroin crisis: Palm Beach County League of Cities calls on governor for help

A group of elected leaders representing Palm Beach County’s 39 municipalities has joined other public officials in seeking state help to fight the opioid epidemic.

By a 16-0 vote, the governing board of the Palm Beach County League of Cities approved a resolution Wednesday asking Gov. Rick Scott “to declare a state of emergency over the opioid epidemic.”

The league’s resolution was passed a day after Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath publicly called on Scott to declare a public health emergency.

Jupiter Vice Mayor Ilan Kaufer

“I just feel that it’s important that we try to fight this head on with as many resources as we can,’’ said Ilan Kaufer, the vice mayor for Jupiter, who proposed the resolution.

“I’m sure the governor understands this is a serious issue and I’m hopeful he will provide the state with the resources to save more lives.’’

Aside from the county’s League of Cities and Colbath, other public officials and agencies who have asked Scott to declare a health emergency over the epidemic include Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Village of Wellington and the Martin County Commission.

Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig was among the 16 members who supported the league’s resolution – even though she refused to sign the village’s council’s letter to Scott earlier this month.

Gerwig said she would have signed the village council letter if it had been worded differently and discussed first in public.

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus have also sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public health emergency.

Heroin Crisis: Chief Judge Colbath latest public official urging governor to help

Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath has joined a growing list of public officials asking Gov. Rick Scott to help local communities deal with the opioid epidemic.

Palm Beach County Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath

“I am writing to you with deep and growing concern over the deadly impact the opioid epidemic is having on our state. As Chief Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, I have witnessed how this escalating problem has particularly impacted Palm Beach County,’’ Colbath said in a letter to Scott on March 17.

“I request that you declare a public health emergency to marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”

Colbath’s letter follows similar requests from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Wellington Village Council and the Martin County Commission.

“The statistics for 2016 are grim,’’ Colbath wrote, pointing out 551 overdose deaths tallied so far by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office for the first 11 months of 2016.

“The death toll, once December’s numbers are in, (is) expected to approach or even exceed 600 deaths.’’

Colbath’s letter also pointed out it costs Palm Beach County Fire Rescue at least $1,500 to respond to each overdose call. “The emotional toll to them, furthermore, is incalculable,’’ he said.

“Our county and municipalities are bearing the brunt of these costs. Businesses are being harmed; families are being devastated. .. We are doing what we can at the local level, but our resources are limited.’’

Although Colbath’s letter cited local statistics, he said the epidemic has spread beyond Palm Beach County:

“This is a statewide problem that requires a statewide response,’’ he wrote.

“With increased state help, and through your leadership as Governor, we can together stem this tide of tragedies.’’

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus have also sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public health emergency.

McKinlay was the first local public official to ask Scott for a declaration, which Scott has refused to do.

McKinlay is helping lead the local fight after her then-chief aide’s daughter died in November of an overdose.

 

 

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.