By: Councilman Robert Weinroth Special to the Boca Newspaper
This month, I depart from my usual mission of highlighting the great things happening in our city and turn your attention to a crisis in our community.
We are six years past the peak of the pill mill crisis. Back in 2011, over 7 Floridians a day were dying from prescription drug abuse. Indeed, Florida had gained the reputation as the drug supplier for the rest of the country.
The good news is Florida is no longer the epicenter for prescription drug abuse as a result of aggressive eradication efforts. The bad news is Palm Beach County, is now going through a new killer drug crisis.
Today, the attention of our elected officials and first responders is focused on the opioid crisis being driven, in large part, by a combination of heroin and fentanyl with a potency far higher and a cost far cheaper than the pills they have replaced.
Eliminating pill mills and doctor shopping should have been the first step in a multi-pronged attack on the pill crisis. Unfortunately, what was missing in the battle was an investment in rehabilitation and follow-up for opioid addicts as they were processed through the legal system.
As a result, with the supply of pills drastically reduced, the demand for an alternative to meet the addict’s opioid craving was initially met with heroin. With the transition from pills to heroin, communities began to witness a rise in heroin overdoses but nowhere near the levels they had confronted before.
The number of heroin overdoses fell far short of the levels that had spurred the original offensive to eliminate the supply of pills. Unfortunately, capitalism and fentanyl made the lull in overdoses short-lived.
Fentanyl, a painkiller used to treat cancer patients, is illicitly produced primarily in Asia and smuggled into the US through Mexico.
To make matters worse, variations of fentanyl, including carfentanil (an animal tranquilizer 100 times more potent than heroin), can create a lethal dose with just a few drops.
The result, first responders cannot keep up with the demand for emergency services resulting from opioid overdoses. The dosages of naloxone required to resuscitate patients who have overdosed have jumped from 0.5 milligrams to 10.0 milligrams over the past few years with the higher drug potency.
The number of deaths from overdoses more than doubled between 2015 and 2016 with 600 deaths attributable to overdoses in 2016 and the trend showing no sign of abating.
The County and its municipalities are on the front line of this new crisis and are seeking the help of state and federal agencies. Coupled with the issues being confronted by the proliferation of group “sober” homes in South Florida, this crisis has the potential of overwhelming our medical resources.
The cost for opioid-related problems led to nearly $1.5 billion in charges at Florida hospitals in 2015. The charges ranged from emergency care to the cost of medical treatment for dozens of babies born with addictions.
Last month, the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners by a unanimous vote, committed $1 million to implement treatment and staffing expansion (including the hiring of an opioid czar to lead the fight) but this is but a stop gap until Governor Scott and the legislature step in to address the crisis.
In the mean time, our first responders are left to pickup the pieces of the broken lives of our residents who are unable to break the cycle of addiction.