In Space Florida Must Lead

March 4, 2010

It starts with the countdown…10-9-8-7…the anticipation builds…6-5-4…your heart begins to race…3-2-1…Blastoff! Watching a rocket take off from the Kennedy Space Center on television is an impressive sight. It is a moving experience that leaves you awestruck when you see it in person.

Why does watching a rocket blasting off towards space cause those watching to feel a wide range of emotions ranging from excitement to exhilaration? Why do some people cry when they see a manned space flight take off?

In part it may be that those watching know that spaceflight is dangerous (in fact very dangerous)…as the families of two shuttle crews are painfully aware. It is inspiring in part because brave men and women board a spacecraft, despite the danger, to advance the cause of mankind.

But the wave of emotions caused by a launch are also related to our knowledge that our nation’s exploration of space represents the collective hopes, dreams, talents and achievements of the human race. Putting a man on the moon was the single greatest achievement of man (so far). It is a symbol of what we can accomplish when we all work towards a common goal with noble intentions.

Even so, putting a man on the moon – or someday Mars – is about far more than symbolism or national pride. For our country — being the leader is space exploration has helped define our country as an economic superpower. There are more than 3,000 products we all use every day that were originally designed as part of the space program. Being a leader is space means being a leader in innovation.

We now find ourselves at a defining moment in history for our country and our space exploration program. When President Obama released his FY 2011 recommended budget, the proposal called for an end of the Space Shuttle program and cancellation of the planned Constellation Program (thus halting plans to return to the moon and then going to Mars). The White House proposal would leave our country with no defined mission and would open the door for China or Russia to assume the mantel as the world leader in space exploration.

Not only would this course of action threaten our nation’s position as an economic superpower — it also could have serious ramifications for our national defense. Military superiority used to be measured by who had the best Army. Then it was who had the best Navy; and then Air Force. Today, it is measured by who controls space. The federal government’s first and foremost responsibility is to provide for the safety and security of the nation. The president’s proposed budget seriously hampers the ability to meet that responsibility.

We panicked as a nation when Russia launched Sputnik. We thought the United States would be the first to explore space. Then President Kennedy made a bold statement, “The United States will put a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade.” We rallied as a country. We pushed the envelope and we did it! Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” showed what we can do as a nation when we have a defined mission and work towards a common goal. Imagine how we will react if we someday return to the moon only to find the flag of another nation planted firmly in the lunar surface.

Today, we need a renewed commitment to national leadership in space exploration. It is time to make another bold statement and give America another challenge, another purpose, with a defined timeline, to continue our nation’s leadership in space exploration. Americans rise to the occasion every time we are challenged. Now is the time for take on a new challenge in space exploration—not to retreat from our history, our collective accomplishments and our position as the world leader in space.

The proposed budget includes significant focus on scientific research with particular emphasis on long-term innovation and “transformative” technologies, cost reduction, and commercial partnerships. All worthy endeavors — but we must do more.

Technology is changing at an amazing pace and to simply say “we will do research” is not enough! We need a bold direction and a goal! Pushing the envelope in space exploration will lead to new innovations, new products, new jobs, and new industries and make a loud clear statement that we plan to be a world leader in this global, borderless, knowledge-based economy in the 21st Century!

We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make over the next few months regarding our space program will have a lasting impact on our country. We need speak with a loud, clear, informed and unified voice from Florida. Our message is simple — we must lead in space exploration — not follow. Urge Congress to fund space exploration — not just to save jobs in Florida or around the country — but to send a message to the world that the United States of America will continue to be an economic and military superpower with a space exploration program that is second to none.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp co-chairs Space Florida, an organization created to strengthen Florida’s position as the global leader in aerospace research, investment, exploration and commerce

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Statewide task force will focus on shutting down ‘pill mills’

March 4, 2010

As part of my responsibilities as lieutenant governor, I oversee the Governor’s Office of Drug Control. Together with the Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council, we use a three-pronged statewide strategy of prevention, treatment and law enforcement to limit the devastation caused by substance abuse in Florida’s families and communities.

As I have met with sheriffs and law enforcement officers throughout the state, they have emphasized the need to reduce illicit drug activity by cutting off the supply of illegal drugs, including legal prescription drugs used for illegal purposes.

Six Floridians die each day from a prescription drug overdose — five times as many deaths as from all illegal drugs combined. In fact, the number of drug overdose deaths in Florida increased by 77 percent from 2003 to 2008, and each one involved at least one prescription drug.

Often the illegal prescription drug of choice is oxycodone, a very strong narcotic commonly prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain. Nearly all of the top 50 prescribers of oxycodone in the United States are in Florida.

At the heart of this scourge are so-called pill mills, which are often advertised as “pain clinics.” However, pill mills can also be doctors’ offices, clinics or health care facilities that routinely conspire in prescribing and dispensing controlled substances outside the scope of standard medical practice, or otherwise violate prescription-drug laws.

These so-called pain clinics have sprung up at alarming rates. Every three days, a new one opens in Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to a recent Broward County grand jury report. In the last six months of 2008 alone, such clinics dispensed nearly 9 million doses of oxycodone in South Florida — the equivalent of more than two doses for every man, woman and child in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Those who own and operate pill mills have no medical interest in actually treating pain or other medical conditions. Rather, they push pills simply for greed, similar to more “traditional” drug dealers. Florida’s pill mills are now the primary source of the unchecked flood of painkillers and anti-anxiety medications that fuel a large percentage of drug-related crime, addiction, hospitalizations and overdoses in our state. But this flood of diverted drugs doesn’t stop at our state’s boundaries; Florida’s pill mills supply huge amounts of prescription drugs to other states such as Kentucky and West Virginia.

To stem this flood and safeguard Florida’s future health and safety, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation last year creating the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. This legislation lays the groundwork for regulatory oversight of pain clinics. While this law is an important tool in the fight against prescription drug diversion, more must be done — and done quickly — to stop the tidal wave of prescription-drug-related crime, addiction and death.

Governor Crist and I remain committed to doing everything possible to protect Floridians, as well as our fellow Americans, from unscrupulous pill pushers and criminals who profit from prescription drug diversion.

Individuals running criminal enterprises must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. To aid our efforts, I will be leading an interagency Statewide Prescription Drug Task Force of local, state and federal law-enforcement officials, state agencies and medical associations that will combine their resources and develop a coordinated plan of action during the coming months to crack down on pill mills throughout the state.

Too many Floridians have lost their lives because of prescription drug abuse. We must take action at all levels to eliminate criminal pill mill enterprises throughout Florida and protect the quality of life that we hold so dear in the Sunshine State. Florida’s future depends on it.