By Jane Smith
The Delray Beach mayor measures the drop in overdoses by the sound of silence.
“We no longer hear the sirens blaring from rescue vehicles racing to the next overdose,” said Mayor Shelly Petrolia. “It used to happen several times a day. … I always worried whether that person would make it.”
She also sees fewer addicts wandering on city streets wheeling suitcases behind them, indicating they were kicked out of sober homes.
At the peak of the opioid epidemic in Delray Beach, police responded to 96 overdoses in October 2016. Eleven were fatal.
Since that time, South County coastal cities and the county have worked together to rid the area of rogue operators. The state attorney received state money in July 2016 to start a Sober Homes Task Force. More than 50 people have been arrested on patient brokering, marketing abuse and insurance fraud charges.
Delray Beach had eight fatal overdoses in the first six months of 2018 compared with 37 deaths in the same period in 2017. Boynton Beach recorded 20 deaths this year and 33 fatal overdoses in the same period last year.
Delray Beach also has a social worker on its police force. Ariana Ciancio visits overdose victims in the hospital and helps get them into treatment or tickets back to their home cities.
The city recorded no fatal overdoses in June, but seven people died from overdoses in July.
“On the streets, I see the numbers ebb and flow,” Ciancio told the Sober Homes Task Force in late July.
Meanwhile, Lantana saw its fatal overdoses increase from one in the first six months of 2017 to four during the same period in 2018. Police Chief Sean Scheller said the numbers don’t present “a huge problem. We have a collaborative effort with other police agencies to go after the drug dealers to stop the sale of drugs here,” Scheller said.
He also said that with drugstores selling Narcan, the name brand of naxolone, sober home operators might not call 911 for an overdose.
While Boca Raton does not track fatal overdoses, its Fire Rescue Department tracks naxolone it administers. Naxolone is given to overdose victims to counteract the symptoms. For the first six months of 2018, the medication was given to 62 patients at a cost of $3,113, down from 79 patients receiving the medication during the first six months of 2017. The cost was down 3.5 percent from $3,226.20.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Chrissy Gibson, Boca Raton spokeswoman.
In addition, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach have passed ordinances that cover sober homes. An operator has to apply annually for a reasonable accommodation that allows more than three unrelated people to live together in sobriety — needed to have protection under federal disability laws.
Boynton Beach Mayor Stephen Grant credits that ordinance for making “a huge difference.”
Sober homes will have to be certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences to open in both cities.
Delray Beach city commissioners will take up their first exception case on Aug. 21. The city has a distance requirement for group homes to prevent clustering.
At the July 16 Planning and Zoning Board meeting, Stepping Stones’ application to open was denied because the Osceola neighborhood the recovery residence is in already has three others within 660 feet.
Stepping Stones was operating when the distance ordinance was passed and only recently came to the city’s attention. City staff recommended approval, but the P&Z board denied it. Several neighbors spoke against it.
The commission has the ultimate say.