Police, EMS, feds fight heroin, opioid ‘epidemic’

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Mother tells Boca audience of finding son dead from overdose
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Margaret Hernandez grimly, often tearfully, told a gathering in Boca Raton in September about how her son, who at one time used to grow marijuana, completed a term in detox and seemed ready to turn his life around.
“My son was a giver,” she said. “He got a job. He said, ‘I’m going to be a company man. I’m going to make you happy.’”
He bought a life insurance policy and made his 14-year-old sister the beneficiary.
One day, the 23-year-old man felt ill and didn’t go to work. Hours later, his mother found her beloved son – Christian Ty Hernandez – “dead in his room, bleeding from his nose and mouth. He was cold.”
“We didn’t know there was a drug problem in Palm Beach County,” she said with horror. “It can happen to anyone’s family. There’s nothing you can do to prepare for it.”
Hernandez spoke to hundreds who attended a “town hall-style” meeting at Lynn University called by U.S. Attorney for the South Florida District, Wilfredo Ferrer, to address a soaring drug problem that seems centered on heroin and opioid abuse. “There are far too many drug deaths,” he said. “This epidemic is the most urgent public health challenge.”
“We need a pro-active response. It’s why we are here today. We can’t do it alone. We have to find a way, as a community, to prevent people from falling into this trap,” he told police, first responders, federal investigators, medical personnel and citizens at the meeting sponsored by Ferrer’s office.
Speakers included area law enforcement officials, including Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman and Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander, as well as those involved in the investigation of drug crimes that have risen to epidemic proportions. The panel fielded questions posed by the moderator, State Attorney David Aronberg, and also from attendees.
At one time, heroin overdoses and deaths were linked mainly to “dirty needles in alleys” are gone. Today, that narcotic and its newly synthesized, often less expensive but more potent companion drugs are not just killing junkies, but also mature adults, educated people, college-bound youths and folks with good jobs, families and bright futures.
Officials on hand for the meeting, held during “National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week,” offered sobering, at times shocking reports of what is happening in the field. Ferrer said, “On any given day, 580 people will try heroin for the first time.” In all, 3.8 million people age 12 and older are “misusing pain killers.”
In 2015, he said, drug overdoses killed 1,400 South Florida residents while another 4,900 came close to death by ingesting too much of the narcotic. “That’s an overdose every two hours, or 12 victims a day,” said Ferrer. “That’s why we are here.”
Aronberg, known as the “Pill Mill Czar” for his crusade to stop the rampant over-prescription of pain killing drugs in Florida, turned his attention to heroin and its related evils once the state began to get a handle on pain killer abuse.
Joining heroin on the streets are prescription pain medications such as Oxycodone and Oxycontin as well as fentanyl, a potent and lethal narcotic that can be purchased on the internet. “You can get anything online,” said John McKenna, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Pushers mix heroin with fentanyl to stretch their supply “and increase their profit. People think they are taking pure heroin, but it is spiked with fentanyl. It’s all related to money.”
The drug Naloxone (also called Narcan) can often save heroin and opioid victims from dying, and is often carried in police cars and on emergency medical vehicles. Narcan can be injected every two to three minutes, in increasing dosages, as an emergency remedy for a heroin overdose.
Since March 1, police supervisors for each shift in Delray Beach have been carrying Narcan nasal spray to help save people overdosing on heroin. Police Chief Goldman told the audience the city recorded 195 overdoses last year and that number has risen to 394 this year.