Franklin County Sheriff A. J. Smith got a rare opportunity last week to speak directly to the U.S. Attorney General, and he took advantage of the moment to appeal for more federal funds for drug rehabilitation.
Smith was one of six sheriffs from North Florida, along with a handful of police chiefs, and the heads of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol, invited by interim U.S. Attorney Christopher Canova to attend a meeting Thursday afternoon at the federal courthouse for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.
Sessions offered the broad outlines of a newly-announced get-tough national strategy against opioid abuse, that plans to spend $12 billion over the next two years in an effort to further limit the supply by stepping up arrests and prosecutions, and even turning to the death penalty in extreme cases.
A bill signed last week by Gov. Rick Scott directs $65 million to expand treatment inside Florida and impose a three-day limit on most opioid prescriptions.
Smith said following Sessions’ remarks, he met in smaller groups with law enforcement officials, which gave Smith a chance to ask about what will be done to help small communities such as Franklin County offer drug rehab services.
Sessions said money will be forthcoming, likely from the Department of Health and Human Services, Smith said.
“That’s what I was hoping, that there was money coming for rehab,” said the sheriff. “The enforcement is important too, but I need some help with rehab.”
Smith envisions the establishment of a drug rehab facility behind the county jail, but knows it will take an infusion of state and federal dollars to make that happen.
“They wouldn’t have to be charged with a crime,” he said. “They say ‘we need help’ and they could be put in the program.
“Putting people in jail over and over is not fixing the problem,” Smith said. “Those who refuse to quit selling drugs, that’s who needs to be in jail.
“Just about everybody in jail has a drug problem but everybody doesn’t want help,” he said. “I’d like to have something where people can go there and say ‘I’m tired of living this drug life. I want help.’”