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Politics

Senators Want More Drug Treatment Patients to Pay for Rehab Programs

October 5, 2011 - 6:00pm

With prescription drug abuse growing faster than for other narcotics, some Florida state senators would like those enrolled in state-sponsored rehabilitation programs to pay for their treatment.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he supports treatment efforts that keep people working rather than just putting them in jail. However, he said during a Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday, the patients should also be required to pay for their room and board and, eventually, the treatment itself.

If they have the money to make reimbursements, we should follow up on that, Bennett said.

Representatives of the Florida Department of Children and Families, saying they already attempt to bill those who can pay,estimated that sentencing an individual to jail for three to five years costs $50,000, while the average treatment program is about $5,500.

The agency also noted that $9.8 million would provide treatment to an estimated 1,800 people.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, cautioned that while she supports treatment programs, lawmakers need to be sensitive to the victims of criminals on drugs. She added that alcoholism and drug dependency shouldnt be considered the same way as chronic illnesses.

People are rarely arrested for being high, rarely. There is a criminal case when they are arrested that is usually beyond public intoxication, Storms said. I dont accept that drug and alcohol addiction is along the same lines as a disease as cancer or Alzheimer's. A person who has Alzheimer's or ALS ... is not in the drivers seat with their treatment.

In the past five years, the trend among drug abuse has been toward prescription narcotics, particularly among younger women, said Stephenie Colston, DCF's director of substance abuse and mental health.

Colston said prescription drug abuse is up 455 percent in the past five years, while abuse of other narcotics has grown 74 percent, with young women making up the majority of those seeking treatment.

She added that while rates have risen statewide, Palm Beach, Broward, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties were among Floridas top areas for prescription opiate deaths, overdose hospitalizations, treatment admissions and pain clinics per 100,000 residents.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, introduced legislation that would create a task force focused on prescription drug abuse, specifically its impact on newborns.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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