President's Letter: A Round-up of Chapter Activities, and a Spotlight on Opioid Abuse

January 3, 2018

December was a whirlwind of chapter Christmas parties for the Amigos and FNGLA staff. There were events at country clubs, antique bowling alleys, pole barns with live bands, restaurants, church reception halls, hipster bars and even one party onboard a ship. FNGLA chapters reflect the industry-at-large in that we are diverse, unique and generous. Thank you all, for the warm reception and gracious hospitality! I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays — freezing temperatures excluded! By now, the lights are off the house, the brown Christmas tree is gone from the end of your driveway and the last relative is finally out of the guest room. Time to get back to work!
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate my business partner, Luis Diaz, for being recognized as the Builder of the Year for North Central Florida at last month’s BANCF annual banquet. His commitment to innovative design, community involvement and tireless leadership with governmental affairs and building policy are just a few of the reasons he was awarded this prestigious honor. I am proud to work at his side and I am grateful for his support in my role as FNGLA President.
TPIE is just about here and I hope to see many of you there. If you have never been, you are missing a fantastic display of everything tropical, cutting-edge educational programs and a unique opportunity to see the latest in plants and products showcased by the world’s leaders in their field.
On Dec. 6, FNGLA’s Marketing and Membership Committee met. It was noted it would be wiser to find out what our members want rather than provide you with what we think you need. So, the committee decided to survey FNGLA’s members to learn what benefits and services are most important to you. In this way, the committee can best direct programming efforts.  If you have not yet done so, please take a minute to complete the short survey at:
The Northeast Chapter is helping to connect FNGLA member businesses and FFA students through direct involvement in events such as their competition held last month in Middleburg. FNGLA Secretary/Treasurer Shawn Thomas was the keynote speaker for the event, while Stefan Liopiros (Lawn Enforcement Agency Gainesville) and I were invited to act as judges for the competition. Stefan judged Tractor Driving and, ironically, I was asked to judge the Public Speaking contest. They must not have received the memo about my personal abilities in that particular skill set.
Hurricanes, such as Irma, are not the only crisis leaving devastation in the heartland of Florida agriculture. The opioid epidemic is leaving broken hearts, broken lives, broken families and communities. According to government estimates, approximately 64,000 Americans died from opioid overdosing last year –a 21% increase from 2015. And, the increase continued in 2016, according to government data. The synthetic opioid, Fentanyl, which is said to be 100 times more potent than morphine, has recently come into focus as a contributing factor.
Beginning in the 1990s, there have been three separate epidemics, with compounding death tolls, according to an article in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The first wave involved prescription opioids. Thanks to heroin, the second wave emerged around 2010, according to the article, which added heroin-related overdose deaths have since tripled. The current third wave of overdoses are attributed to synthetic opioids including “illicitly manufactured Fentanyl and Fentanyl analogues,” the article stated.  As a result, overdose deaths between 2013-2014 doubled. Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood recently testified before the Health Policy Committee telling the Associated Press in all of his years in law enforcement, he hasn’t seen anything like the current opioid epidemic in Florida. 
Chitwood, telling the AP added, “When I first started in law enforcement in 1987, it was crack cocaine and open-air drug markets. Then it moved to houses, now the addicted person sits in front of a computer and the postal service delivers to their homes.” 
On Jan. 4, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and National Farmers Union (NFU) announced they’re teaming up to confront the opioid crisis facing farm communities 
nationwide.  This “Farm Town Strong” campaign comes on the heels of a recent survey which shows massive opioid impact in farm country. The groups launched to provide easy access to information and resources to help struggling farm families in rural communities. 
“Opioid addiction – along with all of its consequences – is a silent, but very real, crisis for our farming communities,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “The lack of services, treatment and support exacerbates the issue in rural areas, and the negative stigma associated with addiction makes it hard for farmers to discuss the problem. Too often, those struggling with addiction and their family members don’t seek the support they need. Through the Farm Town Strong campaign, we’re tackling this crisis head-on by encouraging more dialogue, more information sharing, and more farmer-to-farmer engagement.” AFBF President Zippy Duvall similarly encouraged those struggling with addiction and their families to talk about the crisis so others know they are not alone. 
FNGLA is working with the University of Florida/IFAS to create a similar program and survey to best serve the specific needs of our member businesses and families. In the meantime, I feel the need to provide this information and these resources and also to explain why this can’t wait any longer. 
For the past ten years, my family has been dealing with this issue. We have been affected by every destructive element of addiction you can imagine. Please believe me, addicts are not the only casualties in this epidemic. 
Not long ago, I gave the eulogy for a fellow grower. I believe his abuse of the prescribed opioids contributed to his final act of desperation. The same year, a friend and successful landscape contractor lost his home and thriving business – not because he was an addict – but because he spent his last dime trying to help his brother resolve his cycle of addiction, incarceration and rehab. The contractor is now greeting folks at Home Depot. 
In 2016, I hired three young men from the rural part of our county. They were smart and worked very hard - at first. As time went by, one would return late after lunch on Fridays (after payroll checks were handed out) and then they would all be late on the following Monday. Eventually, they all started to miss Mondays altogether. I should have seen the pattern – yet I wasn’t looking for it. Ultimately, they were fired and one admitted he needed help. So, I drove him to rehab. 
Please open your eyes and look around you. Someone you know is going through this and needs your help. FNGLA cannot solve this problem – yet we can give you tools you need to help each other! •
Ed Bravo 

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