Florida receives exclusive federal grant for opioid recovery

Florida received $5 million to begin a pilot employment program.

Florida is receiving a $5 million federal grant for a program to help recovering opioid addicts find employment and stay employed as they fight their dependence.

The Sunshine State is one of a handful of states to receive that grant from the Department of Labor, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) “Support to Communities” workforce development pilot program will connect individuals recovering from addiction with employment and support services.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, overdoses in the last six months are up 62% compared to that period the year prior.

“The cold hard facts are that the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on the efforts, not just in terms of mental health or substance abuse generally, but the opioid epidemic specifically,” DeSantis said.

Katie Bowman, who has been sober from opioids for eight years, told the Governor’s panel in Heathrow that she was happy to hear about the program as she shared her personal story.

“This epidemic is really an addict’s dream, because we love isolation,” Bowman said. “We like to be alone with our shame and our guilt and our addiction.”

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said there was an unprecedented dependency on substances in his county. This year, 76 people have died from an opioid-related overdose, a 15% increase over 2019.

“There is no question that the isolation and collateral unintended consequences of COVID-19 stopped people who were in treatment,” Lemma said. “Those that had life problems before that only became more complicated as they lost their jobs and became more worried about the economy and all of these other things.”

Last year, First Lady Casey DeSantis began her Hope for Healing campaign to improve mental health and combat substance abuse. The First Lady sat alongside the Governor during the panel and touted the coordinated effort the private sector, law enforcement and faith communities have made to combat addiction and mental illness.

“At the end of the day, what this is all about, there are good people who are suffering,” she said. “It’s just making sure, especially in these difficult times, that they’re getting the help that they need and the hope for the future, and that’s really what this is about.”

DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle praised the First Couple for doubling down on the opioid crisis during the pandemic. Adding to Bowman’s sentiments, he named unemployment as an additional contributing factor that emerged from the pandemic.

“Isolation, quite frankly unemployment, that breeds addiction and we need to continue to address it,” he said.

In March, before the recently-appointed executive director accepted help from the agency, Florida’s unemployment system struggled under the surge of applicants. While the department has stabilized the system, Eagle and the Governor are looking to get Floridians back to work, including through the latest phase of the state reopening process.

“The best thing we can do is help people find meaningful, gainful employment, and I think the majority of Americans are looking for that, too,” Eagle said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment


    October 27, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Let’s see if federal money (our tax dollars) is actually spent on what it’s supposed to be spent on. So far, we know that PPP money was spent on all sorts of other unrelated things besides helping small businesses.

Comments are closed.


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