Five hundred and ninety-two. That’s the number of sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who died from opioids in Palm Beach County last year. And through the first five months of 2017, we’re on pace to surpass that tragic number.
The opioid epidemic is raging throughout the United States, devastating families and communities. In Florida, Palm Beach County leads the state in opioid deaths. The widespread abuse of prescription opioids and the cheap, easy access to heroin on the streets are fueling this epidemic, leaving counties and municipalities with massive social and economic costs.
Not just a drug problem
It’s not just a drug problem either – in Palm Beach County, unscrupulous sober home operators have been taking advantage of addicts and their families to make a quick fortune.
The addictiveness of these drugs is beyond belief. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, while carfentanil – which is used as an elephant tranquilizer – is 10,000 times more potent. These powerful opioids are often mixed with heroin, so people have no way of knowing what or how much they’re taking. Using these drugs only one time can kill a person. And sadly, that’s often what happens.
There is reason for hope, however, and that’s in the response of elected officials and other local leaders who understand the magnitude of the problem we’re facing and are making it a priority to address it.
In January, I called on Governor Scott to follow the lead of other states and declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. After other officials throughout the state urged the same, the governor finally issued such a declaration in May. In addition to raising attention to the issue, it also allowed the state to immediately draw down $27 million in federal funding to expand treatment.
The state legislature also recently passed bills, signed by the governor, to increase penalties on fentanyl trafficking and to curb abuses such as patient brokering in the sober home industry.
Defeating opioid epidemic at local level
At the local level, multiple efforts are underway. A pilot program launched by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and JFK Medical Center to provide medication-assisted treatment and counseling has shown promising results, and we anticipate expanding the program.
Additionally, Palm Beach County has committed $1 million this year, and $2 million next year, to this fight. This money will be used to increase treatment options and hire necessary staff at the Medical Examiner’s Office, as well as a high-level position in county government to coordinate efforts.
It is essential to understand that this is not just a local issue. It is a state, and indeed, a national problem that requires our state and federal government to work together. Thankfully, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio recognize the extent of the problem and are working on ways to increase treatment funding and stop drugs such as fentanyl from being imported into the country.
All of these efforts make for a promising start – but that’s what it is right now, a start. This problem will not be solved overnight, so our resolve must never weaken. I promise that I will continue to work with our local, state and federal leaders to help reduce the improper use of opioids while ensuring that individuals have access to a variety of options – especially medication-assisted treatment – to break their addiction.
It is also vital that the public let their elected officials know how this crisis is affecting them and how necessary it is that immediate action is taken.
Please call my office at (561) 355-2206 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have ideas for combating the opioid epidemic, wish to share your concerns, or are looking for resources for assistance.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay serves as vice mayor on the county commission and represents District 6, which includes Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves.