Republican Senator Jack Latvala, the budget chairman of the Florida Senate is asking Governor Rick Scott to earmark an additional $20 million in order to fight the opioid epidemic which has ravaged the State over the past few years.
In many ways, Florida has been at the center of the opioid epidemic, as ten years it was home to the largest number of “pill mills”, or illicit doctor’s offices where you could get opioid medications, in the country, which was a large reason for the issue of opioids in the first place. Florida, in particular, South Florida, is also home to a great deal of substance abuse treatment centers, which are on the front line of fighting the opioid problem.
In 2015, 2,538 individuals in Florida died as the direct result of opioid usage and an additional 1,358 people’s death were contributed to opioids, a fact that Latvala points out in his open letter to the Governor, stating that the opioid issue represents, “an existential threat to the people of our state.”
Senator Latvala hopes that with the additional $20 million, the state can offer the services necessary to help those who are struggling with opioid addiction and in turn possibly help save the lives of many Floridians. For years now indigent and state-run rehabilitation programs have had long waiting lists due to a lack of funding, and as a result, many addicts have been unable to receive the care they needed in order to break their addiction to drugs. With Latvala’s additional funding request, these state-run programs would be better able to serve the communities in which they operate, as well as involve themselves greater in community outreach and education programs.
Existential Threat of Opioid Addiction
Senator Latvala hit the nail on the head in saying that opioid addiction represents an existential threat to the people of Florida and for that matter the rest of the country and world. Addiction is in certain regards an issue of existential crisis—it is the addict’s response to not only a crisis within themselves but also a crisis involving their inability to connect with others or anything greater than themselves. This is the basis of existential crisis, but whereas many existential crises only affect the person involve in crisis, addiction affects the psyche of those surrounding the addict and society at large.
Addiction can be seen as a manifestation of the social ill of a society. This is not to say that addiction would not exist in a society void of social ills (which does not exist) but rather that widespread and rampant addiction speaks to an underlying social problem or social dis-ease within a community or country. It is no wonder that as a country we have experienced an explosion in opioid addiction over the past ten years, as we have, as a country, witnessed the growing up of a generation born in peace, but entering adulthood in the midst of mass confusion and chaos. This dichotomy created a societal crisis that echoes what many millennials are experiencing within themselves, and with the ability to numb themselves with powerful opioids, many took this route in order to deal with the pain that can occur from simply being in a world that is at times distant and yet too close.
Granted addiction is not the fault of society, in the sense that society creates addiction, but in the same sense, it is still society’s obligation and duty to help deal with such issues. We are all responsible for what occurs in our society, even if by only saying nothing and doing nothing. For over 30 years we have taken a stance, as a country, that addiction is criminal, and the addict should be treated as such, and what arrived out of this policy was over-crowding of our prisons and a stigma surrounding addiction that caused many to hide their issues and never seek help.
We chose punishment as a way to deal with disease rather than compassion and understanding, and like always occurs when we choose this route we exacerbated the problem, created division and literally ensured that people would die. Yet we have now arrived at a point where the folly of our actions has been exposed, and people like Senator Latvala are representative of our new understanding of what we should do with addiction. His words are equally as important as the money he is asking for, because they uncover the true meaning of addiction, that is, to be existentially, or spiritually if you like, sick. It is not the choice of the addict to perform the acts they perform and understanding this, we can begin to bring the addict into the fold of society, and attempt to help them rather than shun them.
I will admit that it is never an easy thing to find understanding or compassion for addicted peoples, but hopefully, more and more people will begin to understand that addiction affects us all, whether we know someone who is addicted or not. What the people in our communities do or do not do is a reflection of us, and a reflection of the collective consciousness that we live in. If we continue to be sick, then we will continue to experience existential crisis, but if we choose differently, we can rise above the problems that we face, and finally begin to tackle the issue of addiction together.
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