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Lawmakers, community leaders discuss opioid epidemic

Posted at 11:46 AM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-08 18:13:59-04

State senators and local officials are coming together to discuss the opioid epidemic in Palm Beach County.

“We’re stepping up to the plate as a local community, the county is, but we have to have those state and federal dollars to be able to make it happen,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said.

Senator Jack Latvala, chairman of the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee, was involved the discussion at Palm Beach State College. He was invited by Senator Kevin Rader and McKinlay to learn about the issues surrounding the opioid crisis.

"Opioid abuse is a crisis facing our entire state.  It's costing lives and money.  In fact, Florida hospital charges related to the heroin epidemic top $4 million a day," Latvala said.  "But the crisis seems to be affecting Palm Beach County more than many other parts of the state with more than 300 opioid overdoses in Palm Beach County already this year. Senator Rader and Commissioner McKinlay have worked particularly hard to bring attention to the issue."

Commissioner McKinlay told the participants in the discussion, including Senator Joe Negron, state representatives, a chief deputy from the Sheriff's Office and State Attorney Dave Aronberg, that 399 people have died in the county this year from an opioid overdose.

“We’re losing way too many lives,” McKinlay said.

The state received $54 million federal grant money to address the opioid crisis. 

“The time for talk is over,” Aronberg said. “We need action because we’re dealing with an epidemic that’s killing two people every day in Palm Beach County. 14 people statewide. 25 overdoses every day here in Palm Beach County.”

Local leaders say more funding is needed, particularly for treatment beds.

"We needs hundreds of more beds in this county to address the need," McKinlay said.

10 years ago, Palm Beach County had 574 publicly-funded beds, said Alton Taylor, executive director of the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County. By the beginning of 2017, there were 230 beds and as of May, there are now 200, Taylor said.

“In the middle of this storm, we can’t afford to close one more bed,” he said. “Right now, we have over 200 people waiting to get into a bed.”

Taylor said recent cuts to Block Grants mean the number of beds could be reduced to 160.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say loved ones are literally on the phone crying with me because they’re concerned about their son or daughter,” he said.

“People are volunteering to go into rehab,” McKinlay said. “We just don’t have anywhere to put them.”

McKinlay also brought up the need for reworking of the Marchman Act, which according to the Palm Beach County Clerk’s website, “provides for the involuntary or voluntary assessment, stabilization and treatment of a person abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol.  The first step is a substance abuse assessment.  If the assessment indicates treatment is needed, the second step is providing court ordered treatment.”

“My aide lost her daughter this past November,” McKinlay said. “She’d been Marchman Acted 12 times. She died on a waiting list. This Marchman Act system, it’s good in theory, but it’s not working in practice.”

Senator Latvala said he was surprised by the sheer number of people who came to the roundtable event. He thinks the state should do its part to help the Palm Beach County community fight this epidemic.

“We’ll make up a proposal and we’ll see where it goes, but I think it will be sooner rather than later,” he said.