- Bill DiPaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Last year’s spike in numbers of heroin-related overdoses in Jupiter shows the opioid epidemic is tightening its grim grip — at least in the first half of 2017.
Calls to Jupiter police on heroin overdoses increased more than 400 percent last year between January and July compared to the same period in 2016. Eight died from heroin-related overdoses during the first seven months of last year in Jupiter.
There have been 22 deaths in Jupiter from heroin-related overdoses since 2014. Each year, the number increased, according to Jupiter police figures.
“What’s being done is not working. This is a national and medical problem. Our local dollars are not enough to find a solution,” said Jupiter Vice Mayor Wayne Posner.
One promising statistic — in Delray, considered to be the area’s unofficial recovery hub, numbers dwindled in the later part of 2017. Jupiter’s second-half 2017 numbers have not been released.
Corey Crowley, a resident of the Jupiter River Estates neighborhood where the three drug-related murders occurred last February on Mohawk Street, said town officials and police are doing the best they can.
“You can’t blame the police or the town for this mess. Maybe the town should file a lawsuit like Delray Beach against the big pharmaceutical companies,” said Crowley, referring to the federal lawsuit Delray Beach filed last month against some of the largest drug-makers and distributors in the country.
The lawsuit says Delray Beach has spent $3 million treating victims of the opioid epidemic.
Jupiter Police created a task force through public and private partnerships to fight the epidemic, Chief Frank Kitzerow said via e-mail.
“These partnerships are the key to public outreach, education and prevention, and resources for individuals battling addiction,” Kitzerow said.
Countywide, deaths from opioid overdoses during 2017 are expected to exceed those in 2016, which mirror Jupiter’s statistics.
According to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, 552 people lost their lives inside the county’s borders to drug overdoses in 2016 — a 106 percent leap from 2015, when 268 people overdosed and died. In 2014, there were 167 fatal overdoses.
The final numbers for all of 2017 won’t be available in Palm Beach County communities until later this year.
The numbers are proof that Jupiter is now facing the same opioid problems as the rest of Palm Beach County, Mayor Todd Wodraska said.
More public outreach, working with other government agencies, maybe even requiring Jupiter police to carry Narcan are solutions being considered, he said. Narcan is injected to opioid overdose victims and blocks the effects of heroin and other drugs.
Narcan is carried by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials in Jupiter, Kitzerow said.
“If we begin to see a delay in response times, we will re-evaluate the necessity of our officers carrying Narcan,” he added.
Wodraska pointed to the clearing in October of two vacant acres of land next to the Jupiter Community Center as specific anti-drug action taken. The property, bought by the town for $3 million, was a gathering spot for homeless people and drug users, Wodraska said.
“This increase in overdoses is troubling. We’ll spend tax dollars to help. We’re trying to figure out what to do,” he added.
Other communities also show an increase in 2017 numbers. Boynton Beach first responders dealt with 571 overdoses through the early part of December, at least a 33 percent increase from 2016’s total of 433 overdoses. Figures show 58 people have died this year compared to 35 in 2016, a jump of nearly 66 percent.
In West Palm Beach, overdoses are also booming with Fire Rescue crews responding to 705 calls through mid-December, a surge of nearly 60 percent from 447 overdoses in 2016.
The use of Narcan by the city’s first responders has also jumped 48 percent, according to West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.
The use of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller said to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, compounds the problem in Palm Beach County and across the country, officials say. Carfentanil, a fentanyl analogue used as an anesthetic for large animals like elephants and bears, became evident locally in the latter half of 2016.