A glance at the news across Florida this week provides disheartening testimony to the fact that despite the noble intentions of many elected officials, policymakers and private citizens, our communities still struggle with the insidious grip of opiate addiction.

Addiction to powerful painkillers like OxyContin, Hydrocodone, and more powerful drugs like heroin and similar opiates, are not a new problem. In fact, more than 100 years ago in 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act to control the recreational use of opiates and the production of heroin. Since that time, countless additional laws have been passed, task forces created, and anti-drug campaigns launched to address the problem and its devastating impact on individuals, families and communities.

John Romano

Public hearings alone will never solve the problem of opioid addiction, but raising public awareness about the very personal and painful impact this epidemic has had on Florida’s families and communities can be a positive first step towards the development of meaningful policies and the allocation of resources where they are most needed.

That is why community mental health providers are uniting under the banner of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health (FCCMH) to support the multi-agency focus on opioid addiction at public workshops in West Palm Beach, Bradenton, Orlando and Jacksonville.

FCCMH is a local and statewide voice for children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions. Our membership includes more than fifty non-profit community mental health and substance abuse agencies serving communities all over Florida. These organizations are on the front lines of the addiction battle, often in direct support of law enforcement, providing much needed intervention services at the most critical moments.

FCCMH appreciates the steps Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Surgeon General Celeste Philip, Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen are taking with this week to raise awareness about the scourge of opiate abuse.

These public workshops are just a first step towards developing a robust and meaningful plan to reduce opioid addiction in Florida and ensure adequate safety services are available to assist those affected by addiction and FCCMH members stand ready to be a part of local and statewide solutions.

The clients served by our member agencies are adults with serious and persistent mental illness, children with severe emotional disturbance, adults with long-term addictions, and children who are drug users or at risk of abusing drugs.

Our member agencies provide a wide range of supports and interventions, including inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment, prevention, wellness and recovery services, emergency services, residential treatment, outpatient services, children’s mental health counseling, primary health care, peer support, supportive housing, rehabilitation and support services.

Our member agencies have successfully established themselves in their local communities as vital resources for families and individuals in need of support. Working in partnership with other human service agencies, law enforcement and local officials, FCCMH members have been leaders in the development of innovative approaches to seemingly social intractable issues.

Each member agency has a unique local footprint, as they have adapted their programs and services to meet families and communities where their needs are most acute and they have been effective in leveraging available resources to address urgent and recurring needs. Recognizing the importance of effective after care supports for individuals recovering from addiction, FCCMH agencies also offer transition services that promote resiliency and self-reliance through connection to housing, employment and peer supports.

We are grateful that our statewide leaders are taking the time to listen to citizen input on the very significant impact opioid addiction is having on Florida’s families and communities.

John B. Romano is the president and CEO of New Horizons of the Treasure Coast. Established in 1958, the nonprofit agency serves more than 11,000 children and adult clients annually – regardless of ability to pay – in St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties.