Philip Levine talks opioid crisis, marijuana legalization, race in Boynton Beach

Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine joins others in a prayer led by Pastor Tommy Brown of New Disciples Worship Center before a discussion on opioids in Boynton Beach. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

BOYNTON BEACH — Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine listened to local clergy and others talk about the opioid crisis this morning in a conversation that also included a lively debate on marijuana legalization and a plea to address racial disparities in drug enforcement.

Levine spent about an hour at a meeting with 15 people organized by local activist Rae Whitely of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy and a group called Black Votes Matter.

Levine recently announced his support for legalizing, regulating and taxing the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older, which he said would generate $600 million a year in tax revenue. Levine wants to use $300 million of that for opioid addiction treatment programs.

Much of the room seemed to agree with the idea, but there was some dissent.

“If you’re going to give our children something that’s going to destroy their brain cells and legalize it, how is that helping? Just because you’re going to get financial gain from it – it’s not helping our children,” said Cheryl Grimes, a nurse who is director of health and wellness at an assisted living center.

Levine said he supports legalization because a criminal conviction for marijuana can ruin a person’s life. He also said arrests and prosecutions for marijuana use fall disproportionately on the black community.

James W. Rorie, a minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, said he’s fine with legalizing medicinal marijuana, but not recreational pot.

“Marijuana in the smokable form? I disagree with that because it’s for the high. We have alcohol, you can drink alcohol, that’s a problem in itself. But to legalize something else for a high? Absolutely not,” Rorie said.

“Yes, marijuana is bad,” said another man who didn’t want to give his name. “But it has some benefit as an alternative, as a public policy, to hard-core drugs.”

Whitely said that while the opioid crisis has captured national attention, he’s worried that other types of drug abuse won’t get needed attention.

“When crack was dominant, we never had this conversation at all. And I’m afraid that the crack epidemic will be lost in the opioid conversation. We will just stop talking about it. There are still people that smoke crack. They’re still here,” Whitely said.

“The national conversation is opiates. How do we have an inclusive conversation and really, really set different policies to make sure that black and brown people are not treated as criminals when they truly have an addiction?” Whitely said.

Levine said afterward that the meeting underscored the importance of educating the public on the opioid crisis and “making sure the police force is educated in how to deal with these issues because they’re different from normal crimes.”

He also emphasized the need to create a “bridge” from recovering addicts to return to society.

Levine said he understood the opposition to marijuana legalization, but, “the bottom line is, I believe, and I think a lot of people in the room believe, that legalization, properly regulated, is the right thing to do. And the reason being is that it will stop locking people up for the wrong reasons and it will stop ruining people’s lives and careers for the wrong reason.”



Republican Jetta slams Democrat Frankel on opioid response

In a new digital ad, Republican congressional candidate Kurt Jetta accuses Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, of failing to lead on the opioid crisis.

UPDATED with response from Frankel’s campaign

Republican congressional candidate Kurt Jetta is making the opioid crisis a centerpiece of his campaign for the Palm Beach County-based U.S. House seat of Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.

In the first digital ad of his campaign, Jetta says the Democratic incumbent isn’t making the opioid problem enough of a priority. The ad is aimed at Facebook and Google accounts within Frankel’s District 21.

“Lois Frankel has failed to lead on the opioid crisis — both in Palm Beach County and nationally. Look at her website — the top 13 issues that she’s laid out, the opioid crisis doesn’t make the list. On my list, it’s the number one issue for Palm Beach County,” Jetta says in the new ad.

As of today, the “issues” page on Frankel’s official House website doesn’t mention the opioids crisis.

Frankel’s campaign responded: “Rep. Frankel’s attention to the seriousness of opioid addiction is well known and has been frequently reported in local news and posted on her Facebook page.”

That includes working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice to clarify local governments’ ability to regulate sober homes, serving on the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and cosponsoring the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.

Expect to hear more about the issue.

“We have polling that makes it clear the opioids are the number one issue in our district,” said Jetta consultant Jacob Perry.

Delray Beach resident Jetta opened a campaign last month. He’s founder and CEO of of TABS Analytics, a Connecticut-based data firm that advises companies who sell consumer packaged goods. Frankel, serving her third term in Congress, is a former West Palm Beach mayor and state House member.

Rick Scott seeks $50 million for opioid fight, 3-day limit on prescriptions

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will be in Palm Beach County today to announce his proposals to fight opioid abuse. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will be in Palm Beach County this afternoon to outline his proposals for an additional $50 million to fight the opioid crisis.

He’s also calling for a three-day limit on prescribed opioids “unless strict conditions are met for a seven-day supply.” He wants anyone prescribing or dispensing medication to participate in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which tracks prescriptions of controlled substances. And he wants more reforms to fight unlicensed pain management clinics.

Check out Christine Stapleton’s advance coverage here and read later today for complete coverage.

Aronberg: Fix Obamacare so unethical sober homes don’t exploit opioid crisis

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg in 2016. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says in a Time magazine op-ed that unscrupulous drug treatment providers have manipulated Obamacare “to foster a cycle of relapse, rather than recovery” and cash in on the opioid crisis.

Democrat Aronberg — who’s been mentioned as a potential 2018 congressional candidate but now appears to be sticking with his prosecutor’s job — says Congress can address the problem by incentivizing treatment programs that demonstrate successful outcomes.

Drug relapses must be covered by insurers as an essential health benefit and cannot be excluded as a pre-existing condition under the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws, Aronberg writes. The requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 also makes young addicts a target for unethical operators, Aronberg says.

Obamacare already reduces Medicare payments to hospitals with high readmission rates; Aronberg suggests a similar model for drug rehab programs.

“When policymakers decide the future of the ACA, they should extend Medicare’s outcome-based reimbursement model to the world of private insurance payments for drug rehabilitation,” Aronberg writes. “This could reward the best recovery centers while shuttering rogue operators who give false promises and illicit benefits to patients, then siphon precious resources into treating and then encouraging repeated relapses.”

Click here to read Aronberg’s entire article at



Opioid crisis: Latvala says state ‘should do our part’ to help Palm Beach County

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talks to reporters after today’s discussion on the opioid crisis.

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, listened to Palm Beach County elected officials, first responders, medical professionals and advocates talk about the opioid crisis for about three hours today at the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay helped organize the meeting in which Latvala, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and other elected officials heard about an 11-month old baby being treated for heroin addiction, daily overdose deaths and a shortage of detox and treatment beds.

“This is the number one public health crisis facing our community and the country. This is the number one criminal justice issue facing our community and the country,” State Attorney Dave Aronberg said near the beginning of the meeting.

Latvala, expected to announce a run for governor next week, said he learned a lot and believes the state should provide help.

“I think the sheer number of people that came to talk about this issue for a guy from Pinellas County where this is really not that big of an issue, it was stunning to me that there were that many people – the magnitude of the calls to the fire department, the involvement of the Sheriff’s department, just the whole community seems to be zeroing in on trying to solve this problem, so I think the state should do our part to try to solve it with the community,” Latvala said after the roundtable discussion.

Look for a more complete story later today at


Today: Opioid crisis briefings for Latvala in Lake Worth, Trump in New Jersey

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will host an opioid roundtable in Palm Beach County today. He’s expected to make an announcement about the 2018 governor’s race next week. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman and potential 2018 candidate for governor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will visit the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College this morning to hear from a slew of elected officials and experts about the state’s opioid crisis.

» WATCH LIVE: The opioid roundtable is being livestreamed via The Florida Channel

And at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., work-vacationing President Donald Trump is scheduled to participate in a 3 p.m. briefing on the opioid crisis with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

In Florida, Latvala says he wants to visit the epicenter of the crisis to determine how to steer money — including $54 million in federal grants — to address the problem.

The discussion at the Palm Beach State College Public Safety Training Center begins at 9:30 a.m. and is scheduled to end at noon.

Follow, and @gbennettpost on Twitter for coverage today.

Among the elected officials expected to speak today: Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, state Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, state Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio. Chief Deputy Michael Gauger of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other first responders and medical and treatment professionals are also expected to make presentations. Fifty minutes of public comment are also scheduled.

Said Latvala in a statement released by his office: “Opioid abuse is a crisis facing our entire state. It’s costing lives and money. In fact, Florida hospital charges related to the heroin epidemic top $4 million a day. But the crisis seems to be affecting Palm Beach County more than many other parts of the state with more than 300 opioid overdoes in Palm Beach County already this year. Senator Rader and Commissioner McKinlay have worked particularly hard to bring attention to the issue. I want to visit and hear directly from the professionals and families directly involved with the issue.”

Latvala is expected to announce his 2018 political plans next week. Latvala, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are considering entering the GOP race for governor, where Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam so far is the only major Republican candidate.


Opioid crisis: Latvala schedules roundtable in Palm Beach County

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will host an opioid roundtable in Palm Beach County next month before making announcement about the 2018 governor’s race. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman and potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis for Aug. 8 at the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College.

State Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay have urged Latvala to hold a roundtable on the opioid crisis.

Latvala said he’s been urged to hold such a meeting by Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, and by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and wants to be “on top of the issue” when he oversees spending levels for next year’s budget.

BREAKING: Delray will sue Big Pharma for ‘scourge of opioid addiction’

“It’s fact-finding,” Latvala said in an interview this morning. “I don’t really understand a whole lot about this issue. I hear about it from the members over there, I hear about it from the commissioner there who’s my friend…It seems like Palm Beach County is the epicenter of the problem in Florida.”

Latvala said he wanted to schedule the opioid discussion before his planned Aug. 16 announcement about running for governor in 2018.

“I want to get this done before that so it doesn’t get tied up in politics,” Latvala said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the governor’s race.”

Republican Adam Putnam (top) has a big financial head start in the Florida governor’s race against potential GOP rivals Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis and Jack Latvala.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam opened a Republican campaign for governor in May. Putnam’s campaign has raised $2 million for the race and the pro-Putnam Florida Grown political committee began July with $10 million in cash on hand.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, have also shown interest in GOP bids for governor.

Latvala today called the race for the GOP nomination “a wide-open situation” and said that in addition to the elected officials mulling the race he expects some wealthy candidate to seek to emulate Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump and launch a self-financed bid.

The opioid roundtable is scheduled for Aug. 8 from 9:30 a.m. to noon in Room PSD 108 at Palm Beach State College at 4200 Congress Avenue in Lake Worth Florida.