By Jane Smith
Heroin overdoses and use of other illegal drugs have prompted Delray Beach fire-rescue and police leaders to ask for more officers and firefighter/paramedics.
The city’s more than 200 rehabilitation facilities account for 6 percent of the 20,000-plus incident reports police officers make annually, Police Chief Jeff Goldman told city commissioners on April 12. “This does not take into account the several hundred calls for service we receive from the recovery industry” where officers respond but no report is made, he said.
The fire chief painted an equally grim picture. The department is responding to 10 to 12 overdose calls each day, said Fire Chief Danielle Connor.
“Sometimes three days in one week, the calls will be for the same person,” she said. “We had a death this morning from an overdose.”
Calls to Station 2 on Andrews Avenue more than doubled from 624 in 2004 to about 1,300 calls last year. She attributed the increase mainly to illegal drug use. “That used to be our sleeper station,” she said.
Rescue personnel, lifeguards and police officers have been trained to use Narcan, a nasal spray antidote to heroin and other opioid overdoses.
“This is pandemic to the community,” Connor said. When fire-rescue personnel administer Narcan, they have to transport the person to the hospital, which means that unit is out of commission for nearly an hour.
Plus, it takes an emotional toll on responding staff to see so many young people wasting their lives, especially when they arrive and the drug-user is conscious enough to say, “Don’t give me Narcan,” Connor said.
The scale of the impact from the recovery industry on the city’s public safety department stunned commissioners.
“Tectonic changes are happening before our eyes,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “We didn’t talk about heroin overdoses last year, but in the past few months they became an issue.” He zeroed in on the police chief’s comment about the large number of incident reports for the recovery industry.
“This is sobering for us,” said Commissioner Jordana Jarjura. “Ten to 12 overdoses a day in a city of our geographic size is troubling.”
Goldman listed the illegal-drug-related challenges to his department: unregulated rehabilitation facilities, resurgence of heroin and the spread of communicable diseases through needle sharing, and the proliferation of designer drugs and experimentation by the mainstream and casual drug users. His investigative division spends 1,200 hours annually on narcotics complaints.
To combat the increase in heroin overdoses — 177 as of April 28 compared with 195 for all of 2015 — Goldman started Operation Street Sweeper on Feb. 29. Undercover officers repeatedly bought narcotics from known drug dealers. From April 15 to April 28, 30 people were arrested, with more to come.
Goldman wants to increase the number of sworn officers to 170, from its current 156 level. He also wants to hire employees to oversee police body camera videos, to help the front desk with Creole translations, to supervise equipment and to coordinate special events.
He also wants to hire a social worker to help people who are homeless, mentally ill and or get kicked out of sober homes because of relapse. In doing so, he hopes to compile information on sober home operators who are in the business solely for the money.
Fire Chief Connor said her department responds to more emergency medical calls than fire calls. Last year, it responded to 10,074 emergency medical calls, while fire calls amounted to 186.
She also told commissioners that her staff participated at 55 special events last year with 1,270 man hours, with overtime cost in excess of $83,000.
She would like her department to have three paramedics on its rescue units — as nearby departments do. This would help to reduce response times, she said. She gave commissioners financial options for hiring extra personnel for the rescue trucks, ranging from $173,000 to $832,000.
By Jane Smith