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County commissioner demanding response to heroin epidemic


Make naloxone, the opioid-reversal drug, available to all first responders. Expand indigent treatment options. Launch clean syringe programs. Teach kids in school about the dangers of opioids.

Those are just a few of the 20 recommendations Palm Beach County officials will consider from a 50-page report drafted by a national task force of municipal and county leaders in response to the national heroin epidemic.

The epidemic’s local toll was exposed in a Palm Beach Post investigation Sunday. The Post found 216 people died as a result of heroin-related overdoses in 2015 — that amounts to one person dying every other day.

The report, “A Prescription for Action, Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis,’’ was released last week by the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.

“We are not doing enough in this community to address the epidemic, and it is an epidemic,’’ County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said Tuesday as she passed out copies of the report to her colleagues and county staff at a commission meeting.

“I’d like to use that as a starting point for this conversation.’’

At McKinlay’s request, commissioners directed staff to review the recommendations then report back on what the county is already doing and what suggestions it can launch.

Many of the suggestions come from programs in other parts of the country, as reported Sunday by The Post in an extensive story in its heroin epidemic package, exposing how the county has focused few resources on the epidemic.

That will change if McKinlay gets her way.

“I’m not going to say, ‘Something might happen.’ Something will happen. We have no choice,’’ she said in an interview after the meeting.

It won’t be easy. For example, just a few police departments in Palm Beach County use Narcan. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw refuses to let his deputies carry it, citing liability issues.

And everywhere else in the state, including Palm Beach County, supplying addicts with clean syringes is still a third-degree felony.

The report also recommends city and county government leaders “set the tone in the local conversation on opioids’’ and use social media to spread awareness.

Palm Beach County administrators have no “point person” assigned to the epidemic. Few city or county politicians have made this a central issue. The word “opioid” doesn’t even appear on the county Health Department’s website.

The county is making strides with a heroin task force and a sober homes task force. But commissioners agreed it’s worth taking a hard look at other ideas in the report that might help the county.

“I would support moving forward,’’ County Mayor Paulette Burdick said. “I know the heroin task force is looking at this and there are others that are also very concerned.’’

McKinlay also wants the county to reconsider regulating kratom, an herbal drug sold in kava bars that, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, can produce opium-like effects.

McKinlay made that request – and decided to push for more measures to curb the opioid epidemic — after the death of her chief aide’s daughter.

Tasha McCraw, the daughter of Johnnie Easton, a longtime aide in McKinlay’s District 6 office, died Friday in New York of a suspected drug overdose after a long battle with addiction. Easton told McKinlay she believes kratom might have played a role in her 33-year-old daughter’s death.

The county looked at regulating kratom in 2014 but backed off.

County officials and commissioners did not offer comments on McKinlay’s requests during Tuesday’s meeting. On Monday, a majority of commissioners told The Post they supported taking a look at more ways to stem the opioid epidemic.

McKinlay, in an interview, said one option could be a dedicated revenue source — from the county or the Health Care District — to pay for expanded treatment, including more indigent beds.

The recommendations in the report come from ideas working in other parts of the country.

“These recommendations reflect several core convictions: that addiction is an illness; that although law enforcement is critical to an effective response to this epidemic, we cannot simply arrest our way out of a crisis of addiction; and that to stem the tide of this epidemic and combat the stigma that often accompanies it, we must build partnerships across our communities and with our counterparts at the local, state and federal levels,’’ the report says.

“As local government officials…we must set the tone in conversations about opioids by breaking the silence and speaking candidly and compassionately about the crisis in our cities and counties.

“However, we must also highlight and uplift local efforts to prevent further abuse of opioids and the overdoses and deaths that result from such abuse. In short, we must define our local struggles with the opioid crisis so that those struggles do not define our cities and counties.’’



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