You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

‘Enough is enough:’ County official pledges action on heroin epidemic

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, stunned by the recent death of her chief aide’s daughter, pledged Monday to call on local and state government leaders for reforms to help curb the opioid epidemic.

Click to read the special report

“Enough is enough,” McKinlay said Monday, a day after The Palm Beach Post exposed how little is being done by government to address a problem that killed 216 people in Palm Beach County in 2015 and is on pace to kill more than 300 in 2016.

“It’s killing our young people. It’s leaving behind a whole group of friends and family and spouses that are left for a lifetime of picking up the pieces from these deaths,” she said.

>>Heroin epidemic, hidden in shame, draws little action to stop the dying

One of the epidemic’s latest victims was Tasha McCraw, the daughter of Johnnie Easton, a longtime aide in McKinlay’s District 6 office. Easton said her 33-year-old daughter died Friday in New York of a suspected drug overdose after a long battle with addiction.

At Tuesday’s meeting, McKinlay said she will ask staff for an overview of “what we are doing locally from a county government perspective to address the opioid and heroin crisis we have.’’

The county has focused few resources on the opioid epidemic and The Post revealed that addicts in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida have few options for care, beyond a core of dedicated treatment providers and volunteers.

>>Interactive Calendar: All the lives lost

McKinlay said she hopes to open a dialogue that will lead to larger discussions with other government agencies on ways to help addicts get proper treatment and to curb the epidemic.

4 more commissioners ready for action

At least four other commissioners, including the county’s two newest, said they are eager to have that discussion after reading The Post’s special section and web presentation, which featured individual photos and stories of everyone who died from a heroin-related overdose in 2015 in the county.

>>Full Coverage: Generation Heroin

“It is a public health crisis that we must deal with right away,’’ said Mack Bernard, who takes over Tuesday in the District 7 office after defeating incumbent Priscilla Taylor in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary.

“I hope we can take a different approach, as a new commission, to address this.”

Incoming Commissioner David Kerner, a former police officer and state representative, said he plans to make the heroin epidemic a priority.

“It’s an absolute public health issue, whether the typical victim is somebody that society looks at as a typical drug user or a (former) assistant state attorney,’’ said Kerner, referring to the story of Jessica Rose, who once worked as a prosecutor.

>>Former assistant state attorney, a potential star, is lost to epidemic

“It’s absolutely time to do something at a countywide level and it’s something I’m prepared to get to work on the moment I’m sworn in,” said Kerner, who will take over as District 3 commissioner, replacing the term-limited Shelley Vana.

Kerner said he wants the commission to collaborate with county officials – including Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and State Attorney Dave Aronberg — about strategies and views the Criminal Justice Commission as a good starting point.

Although Kerner said he would need to study specific solutions, he did say he would be open to increasing the budget for the county’s Medical Examiner’s Office. He also said local and state leaders should focus on ways to help addicts before they die.

>>What is addiction? Why some can’t give it up, others can walk away

“By the time the Medical Examiner’s Office gets involved, it’s too late for a particular person,’’ said Kerner, whose wife, an Atlantis police officer, has witnessed the epidemic during calls to JFK Medical Center.

“I would love to have more of a comprehensive countywide plan. What we see now in the county is a patchwork response to an issue that is affecting this entire county and other counties.”

Broken system, limited options

If addicts don’t have insurance, options for seeking help are limited.

“If you can pay 55 grand a month, there are plenty of beds,” Easton said in an interview. “But the people who are dying day in and day out don’t have that kind of money. We need indigent beds.”

The treatment industry is beset by fraud, as The Post has reported, sparking an FBI-led federal criminal investigation and recent arrests by a state attorney-led task force.

“The system is broken,’’ McKinlay said. “We are sending them out in the system without the safety net they need. A lot of times we put them in jail because we don’t have the rehab bed they can go to.”

>>How addicts, families can get help

Commissioner Paulette Burdick said she would like to find money to pay for beds for addicts and mental-health patients seeking treatment. Although families can file a Marchman Act petition to give involuntary treatment to a loved one, she said, that doesn’t help if there are no beds available.

“There are fewer and fewer places to provide treatment,’’ she said.

Earlier this month, Palm Beach County’s Heroin Task Force announced a pilot study to begin in January that will provide detox services, medications and guidance by a nurse or counselor to a limited number of addicts for a month after an overdose.

“There’s no other illness in this country where somebody would die waiting for a bed,” McKinlay said.

 >>How to recognize an overdose and save a life

“If you have heart attack or diabetic reaction or a stroke or the flu or the Zika virus, you’re going to have a bed at some hospital waiting for you. But God forbid if it’s substance-abuse related. Society doesn’t view that as an urgent medical need.

“It’s up to us as elected officials to start putting pressure on our state and federal partners on ways to provide some safe places for people to go when they need help.’’

Easton, who is in Mississippi preparing for her daughter’s funeral, said her daughter died in upstate New York after recently moving there, but had battled addiction issues in Palm Beach County for more than 11 years.

Easton said she wishes public officials would focus on providing as much money to fight the opioid epidemic as they do on building spring training stadiums.

“If we can forge relationships with Major League Baseball teams, biotech companies, lure worldwide corporation headquarters, fund the arts, import/replenish the sands on our beaches and build world class golf courses to attract visitors to our county, why in God’s name can’t we provide sufficient rehabilitation facilities for our own residents and those that are lured here by the worldwide marketing of South Florida as a sunny rehab haven?” she asked.

“I would ask the County Commission to recognize that addiction does not discriminate. Addiction is a disease and the historical stigma associated with it is only delaying positive results while the body count rises.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

NEW: PBSO seeks car missing front grill in fatal Lake Worth hit-run
NEW: PBSO seeks car missing front grill in fatal Lake Worth hit-run

Investigators are looking for a driver in what they call a fatal hit-and-run in Lake Worth Sunday, and the car may be heavily damaged including a missing front grill. From parts at the scene, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office officials say the vehicle is a silver 2005-2007 Toyota Corolla that “should have extensive front-end damage including...
UPDATE: Boca woman who died in crash into lake ID’d; alcohol cited
UPDATE: Boca woman who died in crash into lake ID’d; alcohol cited

Update: Authorities have identified the driver who died in Sunday’s crash as Alejandra Valadez, 20, of Boca Raton. She and front-seat passenger Alexis Jade Singh, 16, were brought to shore in cardiac arrest. Rescue crews began trying to resuscitate both near the lake just east of Interstate 95 and north of Southwest 10th Street. They were able...
Memorial Day: In Boynton, fresh flags placed on top of veterans’ graves
Memorial Day: In Boynton, fresh flags placed on top of veterans’ graves

Memorial Day represents more than a three-day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer, Stan Gavlick reminded people gathered under a blazing Sunday afternoon sun. “My friends, this is Memorial Day weekend, and let us remember the meaning of this day,” Gavlick said. “It’s not about baseball, beaches, hot dogs or shopping...
WATCH: Massive crash at Indy 500 sends car airborne, landing in fiery explosion on track 
WATCH: Massive crash at Indy 500 sends car airborne, landing in fiery explosion on track 

  A major crash at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday sent a race car airborne, careening out of control, before landing in pieces on the track.  The drivers of the two cars involved, Jay Howard and Scott Dixon, were fine, but the violent smash-up caused moments of panic in the pits and in the stands.  Horrified crew members and spectators...
Body found in canal near Southern Boulevard
Body found in canal near Southern Boulevard

No foul play is suspected in the death of a man whose body was found Sunday afternoon floating in a canal near Southern Boulevard near Palm Beach International Airport, according to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera. A passerby saw the body at 1:26 p.m. near Southern and Kirk Road, Barbera said. It was a male body that didn&rsquo...
More Stories