The Phoenix Flyer

A new surgeon general for Florida

By: - April 1, 2019 1:33 pm
Florida's surgeon general

Florida’s new surgeon general. Credit: University of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday appointed a new surgeon general and revived the state Office of Drug Control.

DeSantis tapped Dr. Scott Rivkees, a professor and chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Florida College of Medicine, as the new surgeon general. Rivkees will also serve as the secretary of the state Department of Health.

He is an internationally renowned medical researcher specializing in pediatric endocrinology. In 2009 Rivkees’ research showed a common thyroid medication was causing liver damage and deaths in infants. His discovery resulted in global changes in medical practices.

Rivkees said his role as the state’s surgeon general would focus on the well-being “of our citizens and visitors, young and old, healthy and infirmed.”

He said issues at the top of his agenda include medication safety, the opioid crisis and “the rising cost of prescription drugs.”

Rivkees’ appointment will have to be confirmed by the state Senate.

Rivkees is one of DeSantis’ last major agency head appointments for his new administration. The Republican governor had trouble finding a surgeon general, who must be a doctor, who agreed with his position on allowing smokable medical marijuana.

“I look forward to working with Dr. Rivkees, whose leadership will be indispensable in addressing the opioid crisis facing our state and responsible implementation of medical marijuana now that a legislative solution is in place, among other important issues,” DeSantis said.

In another major health-related move announced at a press conference in Seminole County, DeSantis has signed an executive order re-establishing the state Office of Drug Control.

The office was originally established by former Gov. Jeb Bush. But Gov. Rick Scott abolished it in 2011, arguing the agency, which was part of the Governor’s Office, was ineffective.

But DeSantis said the office will play a key role in developing his administration’s “statewide substance abuse strategy.”

“The importance of restoring (the office’s) functions could not be more obvious given the circumstances that are before us,” DeSantis said.

He said it will help coordinate the various substance abuse programs spread among the state agencies as well as providing a liaison for drug-abuse efforts by the federal and local governments.

DeSantis’ order also established a new statewide task force on opioid abuse that will headed by Attorney General Ashley Moody. The panel will help in the development of the statewide strategy and will recommend “best practices” in terms of treatment and enforcement efforts related to the opioid crisis, DeSantis said.

Moody said as a former federal prosecutor and circuit court judge she saw “firsthand lives and communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic.”

“I look forward to bolstering our ongoing efforts against this deadly crisis claiming 17 lives a day in Florida,” she said.

DeSantis also noted that Moody is leading the state lawsuit against drug manufacturers and others involved in the opioid crisis. He said Florida’s potential settlement with the drug companies could far exceed the $270 million settlement recently announced by Oklahoma.

“That is chump change for Florida,” DeSantis said.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.