Heroin crisis in Wellington? Mayor refuses to sign letter to Scott


Mayor Anne Gerwig refused to sign a letter backed by the rest of the village council to ask the governor to declare a health emergency over heroin overdose deaths.

While acknowledging the problem sweeping the county and nation, Gerwig drew the line at Wellington, saying the letter may give the wrong impression about overdoses in the village of 60,000.

READ: The Palm Beach’s Post’s special investigation into the heroin epidemic

“It’s horrible, and it does happen in Wellington. We all know that,” she said. “But associating ourselves with an opioid crisis should be handled pretty carefully.”

The four other council members signed the letter, which said the national heroin death toll is “now comparable to AIDS deaths in the 1990s.”

The letter arrived on Scott’s desk weeks after similar requests from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay — whose district includes Wellington — and the Martin County Commission.

READ: Wellington’s letter

“I think it is just trying to bring into focus that this is a crisis,” Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said Monday at a meeting. “It’s not a particularly huge crisis here in Wellington but it just made us part of that voice.”

The letters from McKinlay and Martin County were prompted in part by reporting on the epidemic by The Palm Beach Post, which devoted a front page in November to a collage of faces of 216 people who died of heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015.

The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office has said more than 500 people died of overdoses of all types in the county in 2016.

“This is a problem that is touching our community, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand,” Wellington Vice Mayor John McGovern said. “We have to be vigilant and we have to demand that our fellow elected officials up the chain of government are equally vigilant.”

READ: An epidemic hidden in shame

The number of overdose calls in Wellington increased from 68 in 2015 to 104 in 2016. Not all those calls were for opioid overdoses, but Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Michael Arena said opioids likely were the main reason for the increase.

The village responded to more calls overall, with overdose calls accounting for about 17 percent of the increase.

But Gerwig said that based on conversations she has had with local emergency response officials, the consensus has been that opioids have not reached a “crisis” level in Wellington yet.

Village Manager Paul Schofield adapted the Wellington letter from McKinlay’s, which cited larger numbers that Gerwig said give a false picture of how bad it is in Wellington.

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

Even if she didn’t agree with the exact wording, Gerwig said she would have signed the letter if it had been discussed in public and the majority of the council had voted to approve the language. But council members wanted the letter quickly so they could show it to legislators last week during Palm Beach County Day in Tallahassee.

Gerwig also sits on the board of the Palm Beach County League of Cities and she said she would be much more open to signing a letter on behalf of that board.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Delray Beach Vice Mayor Jim Chard stepping down to run for mayor
Delray Beach Vice Mayor Jim Chard stepping down to run for mayor

DELRAY BEACH — Vice Mayor Jim Chard, elected in March to a three-year term, will step down from the city commission to run for mayor in the upcoming municipal election. Chard, a retired business executive, filed paperwork Monday to run for mayor in the March 2018 election. He will submit a letter of resignation...
Ocean Ridge police warn residents after rash of car burglaries
Ocean Ridge police warn residents after rash of car burglaries

Town police officers are urging residents to lock their cars and keep valuables out of sight after a series of car burglaries happened this past weekend. Also, a car was stolen, according to a statement from police released Monday.  The vehicles were left unlocked. In some cases, valuables, garage door remotes and vehicle keys were left inside...
NEW: Former Florida teacher accused of giving student STD
NEW: Former Florida teacher accused of giving student STD

A former teacher in Central Florida was arrested on Saturday after accused of having a sexual relationship with a student for months, police said.  Alex Palomino, 27, faces charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, the Orlando Sentinel reports.  On Oct. 9, the father of the 17-year-old victim told police about the relationship when...
12-year-old girl accused of setting 10-year-old brother on fire
12-year-old girl accused of setting 10-year-old brother on fire

Police arrested a 12-year-old Alabama girl over the weekend after authorities said she set her younger brother on fire, according to multiple reports. Dothan police told WTVY that family members took the girl’s 10-year-old brother to the Southeast Alabama Medical Center on Friday night with serious burns on his body. Police investigator...
Men accused of pouring insecticide in Walmart toy department
Men accused of pouring insecticide in Walmart toy department

Two men are accused of pouring insecticide in the children's toy department of a Tennessee Walmart over the weekend, according to authorities. Millington police said the incident happened Sunday.  The men were seen on video "vandalizing property and intentionally spilling insecticide chemicals in the children's toy department,"...
More Stories