You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

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

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

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 myPalmBeachPost.com.

Judge asks governor for opioids help: ‘It’s just the right thing to do’


As Palm Beach County’s chief circuit judge, Jeffrey Colbath has had a courtroom view of the opioid epidemic’s toll on society during the past few years.

He also is aware that local leaders have pleaded to Gov. Rick Scott for help to curb the crisis, only to be ignored.

That’s why Colbath decided to write his own letter to Scott, asking the governor to declare a public-health emergency to fight the epidemic.

“I don’t imagine he’s getting a lot of letters from chief judges. Hopefully it will at least cause him to pause a little longer and rethink it,” Colbath said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

Colbath’s letter, dated March 17, is similar to requests sent to Scott since February from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Wellington Village Council and the Martin County Commission.

“I am writing to you with deep and growing concern over the deadly impact the opioid epidemic is having on our state. As chief judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, I have witnessed how this escalating problem has particularly impacted Palm Beach County,’’ Colbath wrote.

“I request that you declare a public health emergency to marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”

The area’s drug treatment industry draws addicts from throughout the country, many of whom relapse and overdose in Palm Beach County. Stories in The Palm Beach Post have drawn attention to the problem and a recent law enforcement crackdown on industry practices and questionable operators has netted more than two dozen arrests.

Colbath, first elected to the bench in 1992, said “judges in the trenches” have seen an uptick in cases from the opioid epidemic. The victims and defendants come from all demographics, he said.

“It’s not just the poor or the easily ignored disenfranchised member of our community. It’s everybody,” he said.

Colbath said he hasn’t received a reply from Scott, and he’s not sure if he ever will. But he hopes his letter might catch the attention of someone in Scott’s administration and perhaps result in more money and resources to local communities.

“I do appreciate that it’s not the norm that a chief judge would write such a letter. But it’s an appropriate exercise of this office to call upon the governor to help out, to put this higher up on the priority list. It’s just the right thing do to,” Colbath told The Post.

In an email, Scott’s press secretary said the governor has received Colbath’s. “Governor Scott understands this is an important national issue and has spoken to the Trump administration about it,” the press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said.

She denied that Scott has ignored requests for help from local leaders. She said the governor’s proposed budget includes $2 million for “local law enforcement to conduct investigations related to heroin abuse.”

Colbath’s letter mentioned the 551 deaths from overdoses of all types tallied by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office for the first 11 months of 2016.

“The statistics for 2016 are grim,’’ he wrote. “The death toll, once December’s numbers are in, (is) expected to approach or even exceed 600 deaths.’’

Colbath’s letter also mentioned the costs to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue: at least $1,500 to respond to each overdose call. “The emotional toll to them, furthermore, is incalculable,’’ he said.

“Our county and municipalities are bearing the brunt of these costs. Businesses are being harmed; families are being devastated. … We are doing what we can at the local level, but our resources are limited.’’

Although Colbath’s letter cited local statistics, he said the epidemic has spread beyond Palm Beach County:

“This is a statewide problem that requires a statewide response,’’ he wrote.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx, who in recent years has presided over drug court and this summer will take over as chief judge, praised Colbath’s decision to write to Scott.

“That just speaks to the level this has reached,” Marx said, referring to the opioid crisis.

“Anybody who sits on the criminal bench will tell you our drug cases, and, of late, the heroin cases, are the engine that runs our criminal justice system, even if (defendants) are not specifically charged with a drug crime it’s so inextricably intertwined with other crimes.”

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus also have sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public-health emergency.

Colbath agreed to talk about the letter after The Post obtained a copy and published a blog about it Tuesday morning. He said he had received messages of thanks from criminal justice employees after news of his letter appeared in The Insider blog on The Post’s website.

“I didn’t do some big press release about the letter. Maybe I should be little more public about it,” he said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Why is Boynton Beach having its Fourth of July celebration on July 1?
Why is Boynton Beach having its Fourth of July celebration on July 1?

070416 PBDN Meghan McCarthy Fireworks explode over the Intracoastal Waterway during Fourth On Flagler Monday July 4, 2016. Last year, Boynton Beach held its Fourth of July celebration and fireworks event on July 4. It was a Monday. And it was a late night. The next day, parents asked the city if they’d move future July 4th events...
Death in the woods: Boys, guns — and a box of dynamite
Death in the woods: Boys, guns — and a box of dynamite

In a back row of Woodlawn Cemetery, near a fence and railroad track, two headstones stand. They are notable for the brief lifetimes associated with the names. And the common year of death: 1923. But there are three graves. Whether because they couldn’t afford it, or for some other reason, the family of Robert H. Lincoln Jr., 14, did not...
Could Smashing Pumpkins be reuniting for tour?
Could Smashing Pumpkins be reuniting for tour?

Could the original members of Smashing Pumpkins be making plans to reunite? Some fans believe comments made by the band’s original drummer are signaling that the group is getting back together. Smashing Pumpkins’ original drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, said during an interview with WGN Radio that he’s going to record with “people...
July 4th 2017: Perfect spots for your picnic
July 4th 2017: Perfect spots for your picnic

At lunch on a recent workday, I had the need to nosh outside in the fresh air. With my delicious salad from Aioli in hand, I headed out to one of my favorite picnic spots in West Palm (pictured above). Can you guess the location? Here’s a hint: The backdrop of the Intracoastal makes for a perfect lunch companion. Give up? It’s...
Opioid crisis: Film art festival aims to raise awareness, offer hope
Opioid crisis: Film art festival aims to raise awareness, offer hope

Manny Mendez was in prison when he honed his drawing and painting skills. “It was one of the only ways I could find peace in a place that didn’t allow it,” said Mendez, who has spent 11 years in Florida jails since age 17 for crimes related to his addiction to crack cocaine. “It’s funny because I looked to art to quiet...
More Stories