Holding up the recent Palm Beach Post front page showing 216 people who died from heroin-related overdoses, State Attorney Dave Aronberg warned lawmakers Tuesday of the epidemic’s continuing toll.
To continue his fight, he urged the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation to renew the flow of state money to a three-pronged task force his office is running. If the $275,000 he received this year is not renewed, Aronberg said, proactive efforts to combat corruption likely will end.
“Our criminal investigations will continue beyond the appropriation,” Aronberg said. “The only difference will be that we will probably be back in a reactive mode as opposed to the task force being able to get in front of this.”
Aronberg did not make a pitch for a specific amount. Instead, he asked local lawmakers to watch the actions of the Sober Home Task Force he has created. Since its start on July 1, the task force has made seven arrests: two treatment providers and five sober home operators. All have been charged with multiple counts of patient brokering.
The local delegation, including newly elected members, met at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
The Sober Home Task Force is drafting legislation that it hopes local lawmakers will sponsor and is suggesting tweaks to existing laws and regulations, Aronberg said.
“You’ve seen stories on all the unnecessary lives lost because of the heroin crisis,” Aronberg said, holding up the Nov. 20 Post front page, which showed those lost to heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015.
Aronberg, who served as Attorney General Pam Bondi’s drug czar until he ran for state attorney, admitted that he knew that closing pill mills would create a heroin crisis.
“Government doesn’t always do a good job of preventing,” Aronberg said. “It does a better job of reacting.”
However, Aronberg said he wants to be prepared for the by-product of the sober home crackdown: Homelessness.
“Once we shut down a lot of these sober homes, we’re going to have a homeless problem,” Aronberg said. Already, he has begun talks with the county commission about housing for addicts left homeless.
“Keep in mind, this could be the next front in this fight,” Aronberg said.
The task force has three units: A law enforcement group that meets out of the public eye monthly to discuss criminal investigations, a proviso group that is proposing changes to existing laws and regulations and a group made up of sober home operators, treatment providers and the public.
Aronberg said some of the money went to hire a full-time investigator and criminal analyst. Aronberg also has assigned a prosecutor to work exclusively on corruption.
“I think Palm Beach County is going to be a leader in this effort,” Aronberg said. “We are creating a model that others can follow.”