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Palm Beach County Commissioner Demands Community Response to the Opioid Epidemic

Last week, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities released a joint report titled " A Prescription for Action ( Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis)". The comprehensive 50-page report starts off with the presentation of alarming facts and figures on the opioid crisis - Americans consume up to 80% of the world's prescription opioids; more than 650,000 prescriptions for opioid pain relievers (OPRs) are dispensed on an average day in the US and in 12 states, the number of opioid prescriptions exceeded the population in the state; each day, 3,900 Americans start using OPRs for the first time, 580 Americans use heroin for the first time and 78 die from an opioid-related overdose. The report continues with several recommendations aimed at local leaders as well as state and federal officials; these are divided into 4 sections - leadership, education and prevention, treatment and law enforcement & public safety.

On Tuesday, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay expressed her disappointment in the community response to the opioid epidemic, claiming that the community is "not doing enough" to properly address this devastating epidemic. According to a recent Palm Beach Post investigation, 216 people died of a heroin-related overdose in Palm Beach County in 2015. Using the above report as a starting point, McKinlay passed out copies of the 50-page report to her colleagues. At her request, commissioners directed Palm Beach County staff to review all the recommendations and then report back on what suggestions these can launch.

Although county administrators have no point person assigned specifically to the opioid epidemic, Palm Beach County is making some efforts to fight the epidemic with a sober homes task force and a heroin task force. Some of the 20 recommendations that county officials agreed to consider implementing include making the opioid overdose reversal medicine naloxone (Narcan) available to all first responders in the county, launching clean syringe programs, teaching kids in school about the dangers of prescription OPRs and heroin as well as expanding indigent treatment options for people with opioid use disorders.

As reported by the Palm Beach Post, the county has so far allocated only a few resources to this devastating epidemic, but things will be moving in the right direction once these recommendations, that come from ideas working in other parts of the nation are properly implemented in the community. In Palm Beach County and everywhere else in Florida, supplying heroin users with clean syringes is still considered a third-degree felony. Likewise, only a few police departments in the county use naloxone; citing liability issues, Sheriff Rick Bradshaw refuses to let his deputies carry Narcan in their patrol cars.

During Tuesday's meeting, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay also suggested that the county should reconsider banning kratom, a psychoactive herb with opium-like effects sold at trendy kava bars or gas stations. Palm Beach County considered regulating this highly addictive herb back in 2014 but then backed off. Mckinlay's request to regulate kratom in Palm Beach County was largely motivated by the premature death of Tasha McCraw, the 33-year old daughter of Johnnie Easton who serves as McKinlay's chief aide in her District 6 office. McCraw passed away Friday in New York, after a long battle with drug addiction and Easton suspects kratom may have played a role in her demise.

In an interview after the commission meeting, Melissa McKinlay said that a dedicated revenue source, either from the Health Care District or the county, to pay for more indigent treatment beds could prove to be an effective measure in the fight against the opioid epidemic that continues to claim lives in Palm Beach County and everywhere else in the country.

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