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Families affected by opioid epidemic can strategize with officials

Two local elected officials — each with their own personal connections to the opioid crisis — are co-hosting a meeting next month for families who have lost loved ones to the heroin epidemic.

“I hope we see families that would like to partner with us and be vocal advocates in trying to make change,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who is teaming up with West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio.

“The families that have been going through this, I want them to tell me and Commissioner Materio, or any other elected leaders that want to sit in, where they have hit road blocks, where they see gaps in services. I want them to tell us where the system is broken because they know better than anybody else.”

The meeting, planned for Feb. 22 at the Palm Beach County Library on Summit Boulevard, was set in motion by McKinlay in November after the adult daughter of her then-chief aide died of an overdose following a long battle with addiction.

Tasha McCraw, daughter of former aide Johnnie Easton, died Nov. 18, just two days before The Palm Beach Post published an in-depth report on the opioid crisis. The report, Heroin: Killer of a generation, included individual profiles of the 216 people who died of heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015.

Included in the profiles was Jewell Everson, who died Sept. 16, 2015, about six weeks after getting engaged to Materio’s nephew, Josh Weiss.

Materio said she met Everson several times. The engagement ring Weiss gave Everson included stones from jewelry owned by Materio’s late mother.

Everson “had been to family gatherings,’’ Materio said. “My mom passed away shortly before they got engaged. So my sister took stones from one of my mom’s rings and had a ring made for her. She died with that engagement ring.”

Materio serves on a sober home task force set up by the State Attorney’s Office. When she heard about McKinlay’s efforts to organize a meeting of families of overdose victims, she offered to help.

“Everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody who has been involved in some way or have been affected in some way by this epidemic,” Materio said.

“Our hope is by having some heart-to-heart deep conversations with families, we will learn perhaps they missed something. Is there a piece of this puzzle we need to fill?”

Families interested in attending can email McKinlay at

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The format is still being worked out, but McKinlay and Materio are hoping for more of a casual forum than a traditional town hall session with microphones.

“I would prefer that we’re all sitting in a circle, depending on the turnout, and making it more of a living-room conversation,’’ McKinlay said.

“I was hoping for sort of a conversation that is more intimate,” Materio said, “because I think people have a tendency to feel a little intimidated by walking up to the microphone.”

McKinlay said she doesn’t want to estimate how many people might attend. In early December, she said she received emails from more than 20 people after she first announced her idea in late November.

She said she hopes other elected officials attend, too, so they can help initiate changes. McKinlay said she is going to Washington on Feb. 26 to attend a National Association of Counties conference aimed at helping local leaders deal with the opioid crisis.

“I hope to take what I hear from families on Feb. 22 with me to D.C. (on Feb. 26),’’ she said.

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