State preparing to battle opioid crisis


One after another, politicians, policy makers, police and scientists stepped up to a podium during a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday and tried to find words to reflect the dire state of Florida’s opioid crisis.

“This is truly, after 33 years of tracking drug trends in the state of Florida, the most rapidly rising and critical crisis in our lifetime and in the history of Florida,” said James Hall, a drug-abuse researcher at Nova Southeastern University.

In 2015, seven people died every day of an opioid overdose across the state. The numbers are not yet available for 2016, but Hall expects as many as 12 people died every day from an opioid overdose in Florida.

The press conference was held in anticipation of bills being filed to address the opioid crisis and a committee hearing before the legislative session begins in March.

Speakers used charts, personal stories and data from a Palm Beach Post’s investigation of the heroin opioid epidemic at the news conference sponsored by the Florida Behavioral Health Association and the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who oversaw the crackdown on Florida pill mills seven years ago, said that in her office she keeps framed photographs of teenagers who have overdosed and died. She said she is in “constant contact” with attorneys general in other states about their efforts to combat the crisis.

Bondi said she was especially concerned about fentanyl, a pain killer more than 100 times stronger than morphine. To mask the drug, dealers now use pill presses to make fentanyl look like Xanax pills, Bondi said.

“I called Amazon and eBay and you can buy them online,” Bondi said about the pill presses. She urged students who buy the stimulant Adderall on the street to help them study, instead to go to a doctor and get a prescription.

“You have no idea, if you buy anything on the street, what’s in it,” Bondi said. “Please do not buy anything on the street.”

Mark Fontaine, the executive director of the FBHA and FADAA, cited data from a Palm Beach Post story that revealed hospital costs for the opioid epidemic topped more than $1.1 billion in the first nine months of 2015.

Among those who travelled to Tallahassee for the news conference: Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, head of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force; Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose former administrative assistant lost her daughter to an overdose; and Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell of Stuart, sponsor of a 2015 bill that created a voluntary licensing program for sober homes.

A hurdle that some drug treatment experts say had dogged their efforts in Tallahassee is the belief among North Florida lawmakers that the opioid epidemic is a South Florida problem.

Data analyzed by The Post and displayed during the news conference showed that the epidemic is a statewide problem. Manatee County - the Sarasota and Bradenton area - saw a 174 percent increase in opioid deaths between 2012 and 2015. Duval County, home to Jacksonville, saw a 3,480 percent increase in opioid deaths during the same time.

Democratic Rep. Lori Berman, Boynton Beach, said the epidemic is statewide. She intends to co-sponsor HB 61, filed by Rep. Larry Lee Jr. of Port St. Lucie, which requires hospitals to provide certain services to overdose patients.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

This weekend in Gardens: Smokey the Bear and an early Mardi Gras bash
This weekend in Gardens: Smokey the Bear and an early Mardi Gras bash

1. Fire Rescue Open House. Children can meet Smokey the Bear and Sparky the Fire Dog at a free Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue open house that’s 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Fire Station 1, 4425 Burns Road. There will be interactive games for children, a coloring contest and fire rescue and police SWAT team demonstrations with an emergency vehicle...
Dynamic water color, oil painting exhibits on display in Gardens
Dynamic water color, oil painting exhibits on display in Gardens

A new set of colorful paintings is brightening up the Burns Road Recreation Center. RELATED: How three weeks of isolation on Lake Superior shaped a Gardens artist “Art x 2,” oil paintings by local artists Marci Bulitt and Roma Josephs, will be on display at the recreation center through Feb. 21. The exhibit is part of the GardensArt program...
Historic Delray cottage near W. Atlantic Ave. opens as career center... will it signal changes?
Historic Delray cottage near W. Atlantic Ave. opens as career center... will it signal changes?

DELRAY BEACH — A career center opened in a tiny historic cottage in an underdeveloped part of downtown Delray Beach anticipating transformative changes in the near future. Through a partnership between the city and nonprofit CareerSource Palm Beach County, Delray Career Cottage, a nonprofit that offers job training, recruitment and...
NEW: Martin deputies arrest Miami-Dade trio on burglary charges
NEW: Martin deputies arrest Miami-Dade trio on burglary charges

Three Miami-Dade County residents were booked into the Martin County Jail early Thursday after they allegedly were caught with various burglary tools and a map of local marinas. Martin County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Damian Llanes, 29, Xiomara Alfaro-Porto, 22 and Yovany Valera-Gonzalez, 19, following a traffic stop Wednesday night...
NEW: Family of Brightline train victim wants investigation
NEW: Family of Brightline train victim wants investigation

The attorney for the family of the man killed by a Brightline train Wednesday afternoon in Boynton Beach says the train service is responsible for the safeguards and wants an investigation from the Department of Transportation. Jeffrey King, 51, was struck and killed by a Brightline train on his way home from Troy’s Barbecue, where he works as...
More Stories