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Ron DeSantis names Scott Rivkees as Surgeon General, rolls out opioid plan

Rivkees is physician-in-chief at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital.

Gov. Ron DeSantis laid out the beginnings of his opioid crisis programs Monday by announcing the re-creation of the Office of Drug Control, as well as a task force led by Attorney General Ashley Moody, and the nomination of a new state Surgeon General.

DeSantis named Dr. Scott Rivkees, a pediatric endocrinologist and the physician-in-chief at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville as the state’s new top medical officer, to succeed former Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip, who left with former Gov. Rick Scott.

DeSantis made the announcements at the Sanford Public Safety Complex, alongside Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Moody, Rivkees, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell, and others as he vowed to tackle an opioid epidemic that now is claiming 17 Floridians a day to overdoses.

DeSantis also announced that his administration has secured another $26 million in federal funding for opioid responses, added to the $50 million the state already in his 2019 budget.

DeSantis said he is signing an executive order Monday to re-establish the Office of Drug Control in the executive office of the governor. That office, he said will work with the task force he is appointing, being led by Moody, “so that we can operate with one clear vision.”

“Substance abuse is a serious public health and safety concern and the opioid epidemic has devastated families and communities throughout our state, and requires serious, comprehensive action,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also said he had asked Moody to seek more than Oklahoma’s announced settlement of $250 million in various states’, including Florida’s lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies over the marketing of opioid prescription drugs, and allegations that those companies helped fuel the current epidemic.

“I talked with the Attorney General about how that is chump change for a state like Florida and how she is going to work toward a much more significant recovery,” DeSantis said.

Moody quickly pointed out her background as a federal drug prosecutor and former judge, who is married to a drug enforcement agent. She has set up her own opioids advisory panel, led by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.

Rivkees is both an active clinical physician and a world-renowned researcher, who’s given keynote speeches at various international conferences and more than 280 published papers and articles. He expressed his own concerns Monday for both opioid overdose deaths and suicides, saying, “We need to act.”

He also praised medical marijuana as having “proven benefits” for patients with cancer, epilepsy and other diseases, saying, “we need to be sure that these legislative initiatives are implemented promptly and properly.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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