Protesters plan visual display of opioid victims before state workshop


If protesters get their way, state officials arriving in West Palm Beach on Monday to get ideas for fighting the opioid crisis will walk past dozens of names and faces of people who have died in the epidemic.

“We want to make this epidemic personal,’’ said Maureen Mulroy Kielian, a recovery advocate and leader of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates.

“We want the visual to show that these are human lives, and every day that we talk, we lose more. That is not acceptable.’’

The opioid workshop, the first of four sessions this week in Florida organized by Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, will start at 3 p.m. at the West Palm Beach Police Department and is scheduled to last 90 minutes.

But Scott and Bondi are not scheduled to attend the workshops, which continue Tuesday in Manatee and Orange counties and on Wednesday in Duval County.

Some local recovery advocates have criticized the idea for the “listening tours,” saying the workshops are not the most effective response to an epidemic that killed nearly 600 in Palm Beach County last year and more than 2,500 Floridians in 2015.

They point out that local leaders have already held workshops over the past year and many local officials – from Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath to the Palm Beach County Commission — have sent letters asking Scott to declare a public health emergency.

So, they’re planning to make their statement, with photographs.

At 1 p.m. Monday, they plan to gather at the corner of Banyan Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue near the police station’s main entrance. They say they will hold banners and posterboard displays showing names and faces of local people who have died of opioid overdoses.

And they hope state officials will walk through the displays on their way in to the police station.

“We are their welcoming committee,’’ said Katrin O’Leary, an addiction treatment advocate. She said the goal of the display is to “definitely try and ruffle some feathers. We are beyond talking. We need some solutions.’’

Two top Cabinet officials will attend Monday’s workshop: Dr. Celeste Philip, Florida’s surgeon general; and Mike Carroll, secretary for the Department of Children and Families. Representing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will be Assistant Commissioner Don Ladner.

“Community workshops will provide important opportunities for DCF, DOH and FDLE to directly hear the specific needs of affected communities as well as provide information on existing resources, best practices and grant opportunities,” Carroll said in an email to local officials this month.

Kielian said she is hoping dozens of families who have lost relatives and friends to overdoses will bring photographs to the protest and speak at the workshop.

“We need to show them that this is real. These are real people. These are lives that apparently our state officials still do not consider as a health crisis or emergency,’’ she said.

“We need urgency. We are tired of talking. We need action from our elected officials, particularly from the Department of Health and the surgeon general.’’

Philip will be accompanied by Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, and Becki Poston, staff director for the Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council.

Other DCF officials who will attend: Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health John Bryant, Overdose Prevention Coordinator Amanda Muller, Southeast Region Substance Abuse and Mental Health Director Valerie Allen; and Circuit 15 Community Development Administrator Clay Walker.

Troy Walker, special agent in charge of the FDLE’s southern region, is also scheduled to attend.

Protest organizers plan to meet Sunday to create the banners and poster board displays.

“We are going to give a visual of the human injustices that continue to happen within the addiction arena, from the ongoing narcotic overprescribing to the back-end sober home crisis, both of which are orchestrated and controlled by Florida-licensed physicians,’’ Kielian said.



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