Task force urges action to stem heroin epidemic, save lives


After more than seven months of work, the Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force is planning to unveil in January a multi-pronged “action plan” aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic.

And task force members hope a recent Palm Beach Post expose about the epidemic’s toll in Palm Beach County will help prompt county and state lawmakers to provide money for many of the plan’s programs and initiatives.

“There have been a lot of articles in the newspaper bringing the heroin epidemic to light. With the energy that we have and the opportunity we have, this a time for us to push our plan forward and get it in front of people that can help make it become a reality,’’ Becky Walker, director of network management for the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, said at Friday’s task force meeting.

At the 90-minute session, the task force added three more initiatives to its extensive proposal: a focus on babies born with heroin addiction, a program to deal with an expected rise in homelessness as rogue sober homes are shut down, and a series of community forums for families and relatives who’ve lost loved ones to accidental overdoses.

In all, the action plan has more than 25 recommendations, including increasing access to the heroin overdose antidote naloxone, adding beds at treatments centers and harm-reduction plans such as education on safe needle usage and promotion of syringe exchange programs.

It also calls for a pilot study to begin in January that will provide detox services, medications and guidance by a nurse or counselor for a month after an addict overdoses and is taken to an emergency room.

Another strategy is to add indigent beds through “addiction receiving facilities” in the county.

“It’s kind of ironic that Palm Beach County is … the ‘recovery capital,’ ” because of its influx of private treatment centers and sober homes, “yet we have a shortage of publicly funded beds,’’ said Linda Kane, a manager with the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, who helped chair Friday’s meeting. The network is a nonprofit that disburses money from the state for behavioral health services.

Other than a few mentions of applying for grants, there was no specific discussion Friday on how to pay for many of the programs.

The next step will come in January when the task force will finalize the action plan and present it, in separate meetings, to the Palm Beach County Commission and the county’s legislative delegation.

The task force doesn’t want to unveil the plan any later than January because the state legislative session starts in March. “If we wait until after the session, it’s too late,” said Rosalind Murray, program development coordinator with the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission.

The heroin task force, which first met in May, is made up of first responders, advocacy groups, treatment providers, government staffers and addicts. A second task force, organized by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, is examining laws affecting the sober home industry and bringing police together to crack down on illegal sober home practices.

The Post series, Heroin: Killer of a generation, detailed failures by local and state leaders to stem the epidemic. Many people at Friday’s meeting remarked about the individual profiles of 216 people who died of accidental opioid-related overdoses in 2015.

“While the (articles) don’t shed a pretty picture on it, I think it is helping to drive the theme home that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. It is a health crisis,’’ said Kane.

At the start of the meeting, organizers said the Medical Examiner’s office has reported 416 overdose deaths from January to October 2016, which equates to about 12 people dying a week in Palm Beach County.

“If you have 12 people a week dying I think numerous families want to act and they don’t know what to do as a community,’’ said Quinn Paton of Palm Springs, who said she attended the meeting as a concerned citizen.

Paton was among several speakers who called for regular community awareness meetings made up of families who have lost loved ones to addiction.

“We do have a community that is hurting,’’ said Paton, who said she was shocked to see that she had attended high school in Boca Raton with at least three of the people who had died in 2015.

“If we can allow them a way to act, I think we could have an even bigger voice.’’


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Right-wing media uses Florida school shooting as conspiracy fodder
Right-wing media uses Florida school shooting as conspiracy fodder

The teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who a week ago lost 17 of their classmates and school staff members in a mass shooting, have emerged as passionate advocates for reform, speaking openly of their anger in the hope of forcing a reckoning on guns.  But in certain right-wing corners of the web — and...
Trump’s ‘tougher on Russia’ claim fits a pattern of striving to one-up Obama
Trump’s ‘tougher on Russia’ claim fits a pattern of striving to one-up Obama

To hear President Donald Trump tell it, he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. He is smarter than Obama — more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th president is, by his own accounting, superlative to the 44th in almost every way.  In private and in public, while devising policies and while crafting messages, Trump...
As Florida students head to state capital, lawmakers fail to take up assault rifle bill
As Florida students head to state capital, lawmakers fail to take up assault rifle bill

Driven by rage and grief over one of the deadliest school shootings in modern American history, students from across the country were taking action in hopes of pushing their lawmakers to rethink their positions on gun control, even as the Florida House rejected a move on Tuesday to consider a bill that would ban assault rifles.  From California...
Rubio faces backlash for gun control inaction
Rubio faces backlash for gun control inaction

He called it "heartbreaking" and said he was devastated. Dozens killed or injured in a shooting rampage that shook Florida and the nation - and "deeply impacted" him as he considered his political future.  Twenty months passed. Then, it happened again. Another mass killing.  Now, Marco Rubio has become the face of congressional...
Trump tries to shift blame to Obama for not countering Russian meddling
Trump tries to shift blame to Obama for not countering Russian meddling

President Donald Trump, who spent months belittling charges that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, has managed to revive questions about how his predecessor, President Barack Obama, handled suspicions about Russia in the months before the election.  Some former Obama officials now confess to misgivings about Obama’s reluctance to act...
More Stories