|Posted by Hodalee Scott Sewell on August 4, 2017 at 1:15 PM|
OPIOID EPIDEMIC IN FLORIDA IS ROOTED IN LACK OF CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY
The governor of Florida officially declared last May the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency, several years after it began to cut a deadly path through our state. Gov. Scott’s declaration allows Florida to access more than $54 million in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant money. These funds can be utilized to pay for prevention, treatment and recovery services, all sorely needed. This is a good start, a down payment on what a real response must be to make a difference. This epidemic is felt as much among our Apalachicola River Community of Indians as well, just as is it among our neighbors. Our area like so many throughout Florida being one where opioid-related overdoses have skyrocketed in recent years and countless more people in the area suffer from increasingly visible opioid addiction. This struggle against addiction has affected every part of our society: Its impacts are seen in the economy, hospitals, schools and our homes. We all have seen its victims in town, on the streets, and among our neighbors and family. The young people of our community are especially susceptible to the epidemic, putting the very future of the next generation at risk. What can be done?
When I became Vice Chief of the Apalachicola River Community of Indian Tribal Organization, I made a commitment to work to protect the health and welfare of our nearly 300 citizens, about half of whom live inside our historic tribal area boundaries in the Florida central panhandle. Funding can’t solve our problems, but it can help. Our Economic Development Committee like so many others is actively seeking venues and funding for initiatives addressing the problem among our scattered Indian families; we feel the impacts of the opioid epidemic every day, as we watch our friends and loved ones grapple with the consequences of addiction. Despite authorities’ best efforts, the crisis is still ravaging communities unabated. A week ago a young women just a few houses away was found dead. This is truly a matter of life and death, which is why we all must be doing everything in our power to prevent friends and families becoming entangled with prescription opioids.
Perspectives into the factors involved I have researched lately surrounding the epidemic seem to suggest that McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and even Walmart Stores, Inc., as well as other corporations have in part fueled this epidemic by saturating many communities with these highly addictive painkillers, ignoring warning signs that these drugs are not landing in the right hands. This epidemic has cost our community health services tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the thousands of lives lost and ruined. That’s lives we can’t get back, futures now cut short. That's dollars lost, that we could use for our schools, college scholarships, hospitals, roads or housing. We must not allow our fellow citizens to suffer while corporations make huge profits at everyone else’s expense. Our fellow Floridians must know they are not fighting addiction alone, and our actions as citizens, communities and governments will reveal our strength of intention.
No one has felt the impact of the opioid crisis more than our children. For children born into families struggling with opioid addiction, their lives are often a tragic cycle of abuse and neglect. A recent study found pregnant Native American women are up to 8.7 times more likely to be opioid dependent. This means more babies born with lifelong physical, mental and emotional deficiencies. Sadly, these infants are then often immediately placed into foster care. These families are torn apart before they ever have a chance to be whole, and our whole society suffers as a result. The drug distributors and retailers have avoided their duty as a “check” on the system by failing to monitor, report and prevent illegal opioid activity. We must show that enough is enough. This growing epidemic is ripping apart families, straining our community resources and wreaking havoc across the nation and we must act now. We must ensure distributors and corporate pharmacies are held accountable for their negligence and greed, so costly to everyday folks. Putting people before profits must be communicated to them.
H. Scott Sewell
Vice Chairman, Apalachicola River Community of Indians Tribal Organization