You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Drug overdoses among new challenges for hurricane shelters

Nearly 16,000 people in nine counties from Indian River to Miami-Dade evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Matthew, toting typical sleepover accessories — and their own personal demons.

Six evacuees who sought refuge at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach overdosed on drugs as the dangerous Category 4 cyclone approached South Florida.

In another county, a bus full of teenagers from a residential addiction-treatment center was left at an American Red Cross-run shelter without adult oversight.

“Many of the people from sober homes came with supervision, but some came and were just dropped off,” said Delray Beach Fire Rescue Capt. Kevin Saxton, who confirmed the six overdoses at Atlantic. “There were witnesses seeing people shoot up.”

Concerns about drug-related activity at shelters — and caring for people with other medical and mental health needs — were raised during the Governor’s Hurricane Conference last week in West Palm Beach.

Related: Why some beachfront residents in Palm Beach County didn’t evacuate during Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew was the first large-scale evacuation in Florida since 2005’s Hurricane Wilma. Dozens of shelters in coastal communities opened statewide during the early October storm, with tens of thousands of people fleeing to the safety they offered.

But emergency managers and American Red Cross officials said the massive effort came with new challenges.

In Brevard County, emergency managers said people went to pet-friendly shelters – a relatively new concept in sheltering – with no pet food, no crates and no way to clean up after their pets.

As winds tapered off Friday night in Volusia County, evacuees left shelters while it was still dark outside, even though they were asked to stay by officials wary of downed power lines, debris and broken street lights.

“People wanted out of the shelter, and we couldn’t put a gun to them,” said James Judge, Volusia County emergency-management director.

Check The Palm Beach Post’s storm tracking map

At one shelter, two teenagers were brought in by law enforcement after they were found on the street skateboarding during the storm. The Red Cross will not take unaccompanied minors and directed them to law enforcement who “deemed they were not baby sitters,” said Charles Parker, senior disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in South Florida.

“It was like every exercise I have ever done in sheltering,” Parker said. “There is a wide spectrum of people who will come through the doors. I want our people to know this is going to be your potential group of clients, so don’t be surprised.”

Florida’s counties handle shelters differently. Some rely mostly on Red Cross volunteers while others use county employees to staff shelters, which are usually in public schools. Palm Beach County has a mix of both and is training more county staff members to run what can become hectic hubs of calamity with unprepared, hungry and unhappy people.

Parker said one of the biggest problems during Matthew was miscommunication between the Red Cross and government officials about what shelters were opening and when. Complicating things further — it was an election year.

“There would be a demand that a shelter be open even if there was no specific need other than a political need,” Parker said.

Download The Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app here.

It should be no surprise with the number of sober homes in Palm Beach County that their residents would go to a public shelter, but they present a unique challenge.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and health care facilities are required by law to have their evacuation plans approved by county emergency managers so first responders know where those special-needs clients are going during the storm.

Sober homes have no such requirement, said Bill Johnson, director of Palm Beach County’s Emergency Operations Center.

“It is my understanding that some of the sober homes encouraged their clients to go to one of our shelters,” Johnson said. “A shelter is not equipped to be a rehab center. We don’t have that kind of skill set.”

About 7,100 people stayed in Palm Beach County’s 13 shelters during Hurricane Matthew. Bags brought by evacuees are not searched because of the urgency of getting people checked in and the heap of supplies people bring – pillows, blankets, food.

Related: Flight director recalls harrowing trips into monster Hurricane Matthew

There were four EMTs at Atlantic High School, Saxton said. Palm Beach County School District police are also on site.

According to a school district police report, on Oct. 6 at about 5:30 p.m., a 38-year-old man was found in the school gymnasium bathroom and taken to Delray Medical Center for treatment of a possible drug overdose.

At the time, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew was 90 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach.

Saxton said some of the evacuees from sober homes were placed in an area away from the general population. And while at least one was taken to the hospital, others were treated at the school if paramedics could “maintain their airway” until the drug wore off.

“It’s problematic that the sober homes aren’t regulated, so there’s no established communication,” Johnson said. “That kind of communication with hospitals and nursing homes is beneficial, but with sober homes, we are missing that entire piece.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Weather

Near record-heat precedes storms, severe weather threat
Near record-heat precedes storms, severe weather threat

Palm Beach County temperatures will soar Wednesday ahead of a front that is threatening damaging winds, thunderstorms and hail beginning early that evening through overnight. National Weather Service forecasters are calling for a daytime high of 94 degrees in West Palm Beach, which is warm even by August standards, and 7 degrees above what’s...
Look up tonight to see the International Space Station
Look up tonight to see the International Space Station

The International Space Station will fly over Palm Beach County tonight, visible for a full six minutes beginning at 9:16 p.m. The station will appear 11 degrees above southwest and disappear 10 degrees above northeast. Maximum height will be 86 degrees above the horizon. If you miss it tonight, there will be a few more opportunities this week, but...
Update: Wednesday will be a scorcher ahead of severe weather threat
Update: Wednesday will be a scorcher ahead of severe weather threat

The National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures near 90 and afternoon storms in West Palm Beach today, but things heat up even more Wednesday ahead of an unusually late cool front. Wednesday’s daytime high could be a scorching 94 degrees. That’s abnormal even for August in South Florida and a full seven degrees above what&rsquo...
Just in: How to make cloud eggs, because everyone is doing it

Because fanciful food is fun, cloud eggs are a thing right now on social media with a recipe that is surprisingly easy. Sean Breslin, an editor for, says the innovative way to serve an age-old food isn’t new, but Instagram and Twitter are alive with photos of the dreamy concoction, which includes an egg yolk surrounded by fluffy egg...
Sunny, calm day in Palm Beach County ahead of severe weather
Sunny, calm day in Palm Beach County ahead of severe weather

Today forecasters are calling for a mostly sunny day with a small chance of thunderstorms before severe weather and a cool front hit the county later this week, according to the National Weather Service. RELATED: Severe storms forecast this week, isolated tornadoes possible Temperatures will reach the upper 80s with a 20 percent chance of afternoon...
More Stories