- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to combat opioid abuse in the state, where he said the number of overdose deaths has reached epidemic proportions.

Scott’s executive order will free up nearly $30 million in federal funds for prevention, treatment and recovery services. And it comes as a series of workshops focused on addressing the opioid abuse crisis launch in the state’s hardest-hit areas.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up,” Scott said in a statement. “Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our families.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 nearly 3,900 people died across the state as a result of opioid abuse.

Scott’s declaration has bolstered the Florida Legislature’s effort this year to address the opioid abuse crisis in several proposals.

“The governor deserves credit for recognizing the immensity of the problem,” State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, said. “People are dying, and now we can all come together to work on solutions and save lives.”

Among the measures state legislators are considering is one that rewrites the state’ drug trafficking statute and puts fentanyl - a synthetic drug that can be 100 times more potent than morphine - at the same level as heroin. The measure would create tougher penalties for dealers and users, specifically those caught with fentanyl. This drug is associated with more than 700 deaths in the state last year.

The state Senate unanimously approved the bill Wednesday. If passed, drug dealers could face murder charges in cases where a buyer overdoses and died.

Opponents of some provisions in the measure say it will increase the state’ inmate population and will criminalize drug addicts who should be getting treatment instead.

Lawmakers are also trying to crack down on sober-living homes that make false marketing statements in order to draw in more patients. The fate of that bill remains uncertain after its passage in the House a week ago. With two days left in session the Senate has yet to put it on its schedule for consideration.

A bill that places new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers has also moved along in the Legislature. Under this bill, pharmacies would have to report the dispensing of a controlled substance to a state database after the end of each business day, rather than on a weekly basis.

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