Fact-Checking The Nov. 30 DeSantis-Newsom Debate

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom met on Nov. 30 in Alpharetta, Georgia, where they debated crime, homelessness, abortion and other topics.

Check Your Fact also looked into two of DeSantis’ claims in another fact-check related to the New York Times. Here are fact-checks of three claims made by DeSantis and Newsom.

“You mean the last two years, more Floridians going to California than Californians going to Florida?” – Gov. Newsom

In raw, unadjusted numbers, more Californians moved to Florida than Floridians to California in 2021 and 2021, according to Census Bureau data. 50,701 Californians moved to Florida while 28,557 Floridians moved to California in 2022, per the Census Bureau.

In 2021, 37,464 Californians moved to Florida, versus 24,692 Floridians moving to California, according to the Census Bureau. PolitiFact reported in June 2023 that on a per capita basis, more Floridians moved to California but experts questioned whether that was statistically significant.

“Experts gave varying answers about whether the margin was statistically significant, but they agreed that the slim differences make this argument technical, and not necessarily meaningful,” PolitiFact reported.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve had a 45% decline in homelessness. California’s had a 45% increase in homelessness.” – Gov. DeSantis. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 25,959 people in Florida experienced homelessness in comparison to 171,521 people in California. The same data shows that California accounted for half of all unsheltered people in the country at 115,491 people.

Furthermore, California had the highest rate of homelessness with 44 out of every 10,000 people in the state experiencing homelessness. The report also states that 67% of people in California experienced homelessness outdoors.

Florida’s rate of homelessness actually dropped in comparison to a statistic provided in a 2021 Home Matters Report from the Florida Housing Coalition. In the report, the state’s homelessness rate was listed as 27,640.

Data from the Office of Policy Development and Research cited in a February 2023 24/7 Wall Street piece states homelessness has declined in Florida by 5.6% since 2020 and by 54.9% since 2010.

Homelessness in California has increased as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cal Matters. (RELATED: New York Times Misleads On DeSantis-Newsom Debate Fact-Checks)

[Fentanyl] is a major issue in your state, [with] 41% higher overdose rates than the state of California.” –  Gov. Newsom

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics, Florida’s drug overdose death rate in 2021 was 37.5 (or 7,827 deaths), while California’s was 26.6 (or 10,901 deaths). Although Florida experienced less deaths in comparison to California, its drug overdose death rate was still higher. The data does not indicate how many overdose deaths were the result of fentanyl compared to other drugs, however.

Similarly, data from the Agency for Health Care Administration available via Florida Health Charts shows a total of 1,545 fatal overdoses involving opioids in the first quarter of 2021 alone. Data for the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2021 show totals of 1,791, 1,619, and 1,487 fatal overdoses involving opioids respectively. The same data set shows 1,516 and 1,487 fatal overdoses involving opioids in the first two quarters of 2022. It is important to note that this data also does not show a breakdown of how many deaths were caused by fentanyl in comparison to other opioids.

The Florida Department of Public Health indicated via a 2022 press release that 6,150 people died from overdoses caused by fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in 2020. Overdose counts for 2021 revealed an increase in fatal overdoses caused by synthetic opioids, according to the same release.

A 2022 report from the Medical Examiners Commission of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement notes fentanyl was responsible for 2,744 deaths between January and June of that same year.

According to the California Department of Public Health, there were nearly 6,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021. Data cited in a July 2023 Cal Matters piece indicates fentanyl accounted for 6,905 deaths over the course of 12 months, as of the fourth quarter of 2022.

Finally, data from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics indicates California sees 6,198 overdose deaths a year, while Florida sees 5,268. The same data reveals California has seen an increase of overdose deaths annually at a rate of 10.37% over the last three years, while Florida’s overdose deaths have decreased at a rate of 0.62% over the last three years.

Dr. Jeff Singer, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute in the Department of Health Policy Studies told Check Your Fact Newsom’s claim is correct in a phone call.

“Gov. Newsom is correct. The most available numbers from the CDC are from 2021. In 2021, California’s overdose death rate per 100,000 people was 26.6 and Florida’s was 37.5. Therefore, that amounts to Florida’s being 41% higher so that’s true,” Singer said. (RELATED: Fact-Checking The Third Republican Presidential Primary Debate)

Singer also pointed out that there are a lot of factors involved where the two states’ overdose death rates are concerned, including differences in demographics, different population densities, availability of harm reduction programs per capita, and how easy it is to access methadone centers.

Additionally, Singer explained that both states have enacted “a lot of reforms since [2021].” One such example is that California and Florida each have made fentanyl test strips legal in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Another example Singer highlighted is Good Samaritan laws that encourage drug users to call 911 if someone they are with experiences an overdose without the threat of being arrested.

Singer mentioned that Florida’s Good Samaritan laws have a loophole that the person who calls 911 could be charged with manslaughter if someone they are with dies from an overdose and they provided the decedent drugs.

“The loophole is counterproductive to the intent of the law,” Singer said.

Singer and his colleagues at the CATO Institute conducted a study examining active opioid treatment programs per number of patients with opioid use disorder in the U.S. in 2021 and determined California ranks 25th (3,083 people with opioid use disorder per treatment program) while Florida ranks 26th (3,216 people with opioid use disorder per treatment program). The data is referenced in Table 1 of the study.

Elias Atienza contributed to this report. 

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter