Funding and flexibility needed in substance abuse fight

While President Donald Trump has declared opioid abuse to be a national emergency, local experts have urged U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis to remember that other substance abuse problems also remain to be a real concern in Pasco County.

Bilirakis paid a visit to the Land O’ Lakes Community Center on Aug. 22 seeking to hear from people on the front lines of tackling substance abuse problems.

His visit came immediately following the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention’s meeting.

Those gathered for Bilirakis’ session included health care and social service providers, people recovering from drug addictions, family members of addicts and others interested in the topic of substance abuse.

“I wanted to hear directly from you,” Bilirakis said. “The best ideas about how we can help will come from you. I’m here to listen and to take your feedback back to Washington with me.

The congressman said he expects Trump’s emergency declaration to result in more funding to address the opioid crisis. And, Bilirakis said, there’s no question action is needed.

“More people are dying each year from opioid overdose than from car accidents. The statistics are staggering and truly tragic,” said Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th Congressional district.

“This is something that needs to be attacked. It transcends political lines,”
Bilirakis added.

Then, he asked the crowd: “Where is the need in the community?”

Those attending had plenty to say.

They told Bilirakis about the waiting lists for public beds and services, and the empty beds at private providers.

They told him there were too many strings attached to state and federal funding.

They said people who need mental health care can’t get it, and that impedes the ability to help them in their recovery efforts.

They said doctors still prescribe too many pills, and that pill mills are still going strong — noting there can be lines of a hundred people or more waiting for their prescriptions.

Bilirakis also asked for opinions regarding whether parents should have access to their adult children’s medical records.

Views varied.

The mother of a 27-year-old who has been addicted to drugs for 10 years said she wants to help in her son’s recovery and to be his health care advocate.

But, others said that the patient should be the one to determine who is permitted access to his or her medical records.

Others in the audience said there needs to be more communication about support groups and low-cost services available to people struggling with addiction or recovering from substance abuse.

There are places where addicts can turn for help, but sometimes they don’t know about them, speakers said.

Bilirakis asked the audience to weigh in on the topic of medication-assisted treatment.

Using medication in addition to behavioral health counseling can be helpful, but there seems to be a trend toward more money for medication and less money for mental health care, one speaker said.

People in the crowd also reminded Bilirakis that while the opioid crisis is getting significant attention, Pasco County also has a problem with people abusing meth, alcohol and Xanax, among other things.

Speakers told Bilirakis there needs to be more trust placed in health care professionals who can determine the best course of treatment for a patient.

That isn’t happening, though, in an environment when issues tend to be “silo-d,” and there are too many restrictions on funding, they said.

Published September 6, 2017

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