Delray Beach Drug Task Force A Model For Communities Fighting Substance Abuse


By: Suzanne Spencer, Former Executive Director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force Founder/Producer of SUD Talks Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
Not a day goes by when we don’t hear of drug overdoses in locations ranging from rural Maine to New York City. At times it’s difficult to strike a balance between taking pro-active steps and avoiding the situation as a method of self-protection.
One thing is certain. This is tragic on many levels and threatens many communities and families. The City of Delray Beach is at one of the epi-centers of this national healthcare crisis and has taken a stance that is dealing with the problem on several fronts.
The Delray Beach Drug Task Force has created an environment that combines the efforts of city government, responders, educators, law enforcement, hospitals, and recovery centers. It is a long battle but we are finding solutions. The problem has cast a wide net of dysfunction requiring an approach that anticipates problems of tomorrow while finding solutions for today. Our hope is that our “City by the Sea” can be used as a model to other cities facing similar problems.
Problems are far reaching as we see systems that if not broken are at a minimum stressed. First responders are at high risk for “burnout.” Families are in financial and emotional ruin at the hands of a disease. We see an industry that has blurred the lines between healthcare and profit motive. There is a “perfect storm” throughout the country.
The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) posture cannot shield communities from a disease that does not discriminate. Communities are pleading for help, regulation and oversight.
The statistics are daunting:
580 people try heroin for the first time every day
There is an overdose death every six hours in South Florida
In 2015, there were 1,460 overdose deaths in South Florida
In Palm Beach County, fatal heroin overdoses jumped from 158 in 2015 to 107 thus far in 2016. Fentanyl deaths rose from 90 in 2015 to 173 in 2016
The sale of legal painkillers has tripled since 1999
More than 28,000 people have died from opiates since 2014
Our multi-dimensional approach is making an impact, and we’re pleased to sponsor the 2nd Annual 2017 SUD Talks (, community and industry event designed to change the way communities, governments and providers think, feel, believe and treat Substance Use Disorder. It will be held March 4th at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach and will be broadcast nationally through various social media platforms. The event features a collection of diverse speakers presented in a “Ted Talk” format and an engaging, and interactive panel discussion with industry experts.
This event was well-received last year. It brought awareness nationally and locally to the problem and recommended steps cities must take if they are to build integrated communities, rebuild broken systems, and ensure consumer protection and public safety.
The following are some of the initiatives we have taken:
Provided Narcan through a grant to the Delray Beach Police Department, making it the 2nd law enforcement agency in the state to use this antidote. These kits and policies and training protocols are shared with other police departments in South Florida when requested.
Founded the After-Narcan initiative, a strategy aimed at breaking the cycle of addiction, reduce chronic relapse and facilitate access to treatment
Living Skills in the Schools, a substance abuse prevention program under the Crossroads Club authorized by safe schools for PBC schools. It has reached more than 125,000 students in 60 schools in grades kindergarten through college
Project Trailblazer, an initiative designed to contribute to the economic architecture of Delray Beach by providing employers with pre- and post-hiring support, reducing absenteeism, recidivism rates, and increasing long-term recovery outcomes
The goals include:
Preserve the equilibrium and stability of communities
Lessen growing numbers of displaced residents
Augment public safety
Support consumer protection policies and initiatives
Contribute to the economic architecture of the city (reducing social services and helping a skilled workforce re-enter the workplace at their skill level)
Invest in prevention strategies which will lessen rehabilitation costs
Recognized as a national model, the Delray Beach Drug Task Force is a valuable and unique resource for other cities striving to deal with consequences of substance use disorder.
Suzanne Spencer is the former executive Director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force and the founder/producer of SUD Talks, a community event that educates the public, government and providers on ways to treat substance abuse disorder. She is also the executive director of Living Skills in the Schools, a substance abuse program that is offered in Palm Beach County schools in grades K through college. To date, it has been given to more than 125,000 students in 60 schools.