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Following Passage Of Bipartisan Opioid Bill, Sen. Nelson Visits Addicted Newborns At UF Health Jax

Haley, Nelson, and Gregory in UF Health Jacksonville's Neonatal unit.
Brendan Rivers
Left to right: UF Health Jacksonville CEO and Dean Leon L. Haley Jr., Sen. Bill Nelson, and Nurse Manager Ellen Gregory.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson was in Jacksonville on Wednesday, two days after the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan bill aimed at fighting the nation’s opioid epidemic.

He spoke with doctors and nurses at UF Health Jacksonville hospital about opioids and how they continue to affect newborns in the Jacksonville area.

“Getting this bill passed shows what we can do when we work together and put partisanship aside,” said Nelson. “The rapid increase in opioid overdoses shows why we need to do everything we can to address what has become a serious, national health crisis.”

The Opioid Crisis Response Act, which passed the Senate with a 99 to 1 vote, contains several measures put forward by the Florida Democrat.

The legislation includes a provision aimed at improving the quality of care provided to newborn babies who suffer from opioid withdrawal, like the children Nelson visited at UF Health Jacksonville on Wednesday.

Another measure would allow the Federal Trade Commission to go after drug treatment programs that are suspected of fraudulent activity.

The bill also has a provision that would direct federal health officials to look into whether  Medicaid should provide telehealth services to underserved areas.

“One part of what this opioid bill is going to do is start collecting data done by CDC as well as HHS,” said Nelson. The hope is that with that data, health care providers will gain a better understanding of the opioid epidemic and get a sense of whether or not past and current efforts are effective. That information should also help health care providers figure out what happens to their patients after care has been rendered.

Speaking to Nelson, Dr. Josef Cortez, Medical Director at UF Health Jacksonville’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, said lawmakers and health care providers need to avoid stigmatizing or ostracizing patients who are being treated for opioid addiction. “Because they’re already at a disadvantage and putting a label, which would put stigma on this situation, would make things worse.”

Speaking to UF Health Jacksonville doctors and nurses, as he did last year, Nelson pointed to a needle exchange program in Miami-Dade county. “They have cut the amount of addictions significantly, in that county.”

Dr. Cortez said programs like that can be very helpful. “It certainly puts a spotlight on this problem, but it also helps with infection and other complications associated with it. And if it decreases the substance use, that’s even better.”

Sen. Nelson expects the bill to be signed by President Donald Trump by next week. “There’s a similar version in the House,” Nelson said. “They’ll just put the two bills together. And, probably by next week, this will all be done. And it takes a comprehensive approach.”

Brendan Rivers can be reached at, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

Special Projects Producer Brendan Rivers joined WJCT News in August of 2018 after several years as a reporter and then News Director at Southern Stone Communications, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Daytona Beach area.