TALLAHASSEE Â– Governor Ron DeSantis last week met the Capitol
with sheriffs from 15 rural counties to discuss the methamphetamine epidemic
which continues to plague the state’s rural populations.
Franklin County Sheriff AJ Smith has spearheaded the creation
of meth task force, and he led the meeting, which was joined by Gulf County
Sheriff Mike Harrison.
Â“Two months ago, we decided to talk to many sheriffs and counties
comparable to Franklin County to see if they had the same issues,Â” said Smith.
On May 27, DeSantis spent about 45 minutes at the third
meeting of the task force, which has as its mission three primary goals Â– to address
prevention, rehabilitation, and enforcement.
Â“Those are the three legs we need help with,Â” said Smith. Â“As
a group weÂ’re much larger than individuals, and we have a lot more juice with the
Â“When it comes to high meth use, repeat offenders, multiple generations
of drug users, maybe theyÂ’re doing something IÂ’m not,Â” he said. Â“Each of us are
doing our own thing; together weÂ’re stronger.Â”
The task force would like to help secure grant funds from
the U.S. Department of Justice, many of which are channeled through the state,
as well as any state budget dollars that could be obtained.
Â“Most money coming from the feds has been going to big counties
to fight opioids,Â” said Smith. Â“Meth is our problem.Â”
Just securing grant monies is itself a challenge for small
counties, he said.
Â“It takes a lot for resources to write a grant, we donÂ’t have
a staff for that,Â” Smith said. Â“ItÂ’s a lot of red tape for small counties.Â”
He said he hopes to schedule a task force meeting with First
Lady Casey DeSantis, who has made mental health a top priority of her outreach.
Â“WeÂ’ve tried everything I know to try,Â” Smith said.
The Franklin Wellness Facility, a proposed drug rehab center
for a site in Apalachicola that was cleared in August, has been put on a temporary
hold, mainly because the costs of construction have exceeded the original
estimate, he said.
As envisioned, the facility would serve substance abusers in
Franklin, Gulf and surrounding counties, and would be funded by state and
federal monies secured by Northwest Florida Health Network, a network management
agency for child welfare and substance abuse and behavioral health that is the
successor to Big Bend Community Based Care.
Smith said the project was put on hold because bids from
contractors came in at about $1.5 million more than the original projected $3
Â“It gave them some pause,Â” he said, noting the increased
cost of lumber and demands for construction projects contributed to the cost
In addition to Gulf and Franklin, the task force includes
sheriffs from Liberty, Lafayette, Glades, Jefferson, Hamilton, Calhoun, Union, Dixie,
Gilchrist, Madison, Holmes, Taylor and Washington counties
Â“ThereÂ’s more to fighting the drug epidemic in our community
than putting those who sell them in jail,Â” said Holmes County Sheriff Jeff Tate.
Â“There are those who are in a fight of their own Â– the one against addiction.
We need to ensure rehabilitative programs are easily accessible to help them
win that fight. I appreciate Governor DeSantisÂ’ commitment to helping us make
The governor told the task force he also plans to bolster
funding and resources for investigations and other law enforcement actions
associated with combating the sale of illegal drugs.
Carol Wyatt, editor of the Holmes County Times Advertiser, assisted with this story.