First Lady attacks opioid addiction; focuses on babies born with addictions

First Lady Casey DeSantis addresses opioid addiction during a news conference in Hollywood on Oct. 2, 2019. Source: governor's office

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced new initiatives Wednesday targeting opioid addiction, including plans to hire a statewide coordinator of services for pregnant women and mothers and their children.

Opioid abuse claims 17 lives each day in Florida – more than 6,000 per year, Ms. DeSantis said. Moreover, nationwide the number of children born with drug dependency inherited from their mothers quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.

In Florida, a recent four-year period saw more than 6,000 babies born with addictions. “As a mother of two children, and now pregnant with my third, this really does hit home for me,” the First Lady said.

Ms. DeSantis announced receipt of a three-year, $58.8 million U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant to track and respond to opioid abuse.

The grant “will provide really critical staffing and funding to collect and analyze and derive key information through real-time life-saving services and resources,” she said.

Florida has already received $26 million in federal awards for anti-addiction services, Ms. DeSantis added. There was no word about when the coordinator position would be filled or the identity of any candidates for the job.

The First Lady spoke during a news conference at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, where she toured the neonatal intensive care unit.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said the grant money would help the state identify areas suffering high rates of overdoses and births to addicted mothers and the actual drugs involved, and to develop response and prevention strategies. Local health departments in Broward, Duval and Palm Beach counties will share $12 million per year under the program; the rest will go to the state.

Ms. DeSantis has been leading a “Hope for Healing” campaign to study how the state spends mental health programs and look for ways to improve services.

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