Buchanan Applauds Funding to Fight Heroin



At a time when Manatee County has seen a record number of drug overdose deaths, US Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, says resources are needed more than ever to fight a heroin epidemic. On that front, he applauded President Barack Obama for signing a bill directing $500 million to anti-drug program grants within the Department of Homeland Security. “Unfortunately, we will probably need more resources,” Buchanan says, “but let’s invest these and take a look at this fight.”

Buchanan, co-chair of Florida’s Congressional Delegation, has devoted much of his time in Washington over the past year toward the fight against heroin. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that heroin-related deaths quadrupled between 2012 and 2013. And in 2014, more such deaths per capita were reported in Manatee County than in any other county in Florida, experiencing a 900 percent spike in deaths. “I hate to say it but the bodies are just stacked up,” he says. “They don’t have the capacity for this.” 

It’s a personal issue for Buchanan, who has a nephew who has battled with prescription pill abuse. But he says the greatest reason he has made this a priority as a congressman has been the increased frequency of parents who lost children or who have seen them become addicted. Buchanan notes that while the state has done a good job in recent years shutting down so-called pill mills, painkiller-dispensing businesses that empowered prescription drug abuse, many of the individuals suffering from addiction have turned to illegal, cheaper options like heroin.

In September, Buchanan urged both chambers of Congress to approve funding to deal with heroin and chaired a Congressional hearing specifically examining the impact of addiction on children—he notes births of drug-dependent infants are also on the rise. In May, he hosted a roundtable with law enforcement, medical professionals and social agencies to discuss the needs in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. He has also supported legislation that combats the import of carfentanil and fentanyl, synthetic drugs similar to heroin but 50 times more powerful, that have started flowing to the US from China. Fentanyl-related deaths in 2015 were up 77.6 statewide when compared to 2014, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission. 

The legislation signed by Obama had bipartisan support. As the nation sees a transition to Republican leadership under President-elect Donald Trump, Buchanan believes support for battling the heroin epidemic will remain consistent. “This is not just a Manatee or Sarasota problem. It’s the whole state of Florida,” he says. “And it’s also in New Hampshire, Kentucky and Tennessee. Drugs are coming up from Central and South America and through Mexico. And we’re also hearing about things coming here from China through UPS and FedEx. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”

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