By Jane Smith
Nearly 10 years after Delray Beach was dubbed “the recovery capital of America” by The New York Times, that branding still irritates some elected officials.
“This leadership is not sitting idly by. We want to see that reputation diminish very quickly,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said at the April 18 City Commission meeting.
He was referring to an email blast sent a day earlier by treatment center lawyer Jeffrey Lynne. Trying to create interest in a Recovery Business Council, Lynne wrote: “Making Delray Beach the ‘Recovery’ Capital once again.”
The interim city manager had asked the commission to take a position on promoting that industry. The mayor said he was not interested and recognized the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce for moving quickly to cancel the kickoff meeting.
“We are demonstrating that we are part of the solution by shining a bright light on what is largely a sham industry, in my opinion,” the mayor said.
The city recorded 65 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, making its per capita overdose death rate more than double that of Palm Beach County and triple the rate of Broward County.
For the first quarter of this year, fatal overdoses slipped by one from the same period last year, according to Police Department data.
To combat the opioid epidemic, the city is banking on getting updated and new state legislation and new city ordinances.
The state laws, proposed by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Sober Homes Task Force, would tighten rules on treatment center marketing and patient brokering.
Delray detective plays lead role
Delray Beach Detective Nicole Lucas plays a leading role in the law enforcement arm of the task force. Her investigations have resulted in the arrests of more than 12 treatment center and sober home operators.
She worked with sober home operators who went undercover and recorded treatment center managers when they talked about paying the sober home operators to bring clients to them. The illegal practice is called patient brokering.
In late March, Lucas received a plaque for her efforts from the South County Recovery Residence Association. The group is a grass-roots coalition of sober homes in Delray Beach. It began 15 years ago as way to compile a list of ethical recovery residences, said Jim Tichy, president and co-owner of The Lodge.
“There was too much crap going on in our industry,” Tichy said. “We work with the Delray police and code departments.”
To craft its own rules, Delray Beach is relying on a joint statement procured by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. The statement contains language that allows cities to regulate recovery residences so that they don’t overwhelm one neighborhood, creating an institutional-like setting.
“The city of Delray Beach is NOT at war with recovering addicts or people with disabilities,” Max Lohman, the city attorney, wrote in an email.
The city is battling unscrupulous operators who use federal housing and disability laws “to perpetuate the slavery of addiction at the expense of those among us who are most in need of our protection,” Lohman wrote. “By protecting recovering addicts from further victimization, we will also protect our community.”
To study the location of its group homes, the city hired Daniel Lauber, an expert planner who is also a lawyer from the Chicago area. Frankel had recommended Lauber for his knowledge of the Fair Housing Act. The city attorney expects Lauber to deliver his study in early May.
Depending on the completeness of the study, Lohman predicted an ordinance would come before the City Commission in late July or early August.
Earlier this year, the city began requiring group home operators to register annually for a medical accommodation that allows more than three unrelated people to live together.
Public safety budget affected
Meanwhile, the city’s public safety departments will ask for money in next year’s budget to battle the plague of overdose calls.
“Currently we are working on collecting better data for our upcoming presentation to the commissioners,” said Dani Moschella, Delray Beach police spokeswoman. “That should give them a better understanding of percentage of time that the recovery community demands of our resources.”
The Police Department will request five additional officers in next year’s budget, Moschella said.
“That is not all because of the recovery industry,” she said, “but because the entire service population continues to grow and tax our force.”
The Fire-Rescue Department will seek $60,000 to handle the overdose calls, up from $30,000 in the current budget, according to Kevin Green, assistant chief of operations.
City paramedics administered 1,935 doses of Narcan last year, Green replied via email. Narcan stops a user’s high.
“We do have patients who receive multiple doses,” Green wrote. “Now, each dose is 4 mg. Some patients may need 12-20 mg.”
Meanwhile, Lynne and the mayor are engaged in a war of words. At the April 18 commission meeting, the mayor said Lynne had “co-opted and used without authorization the Chamber’s logos” for the Recovery Business Council.
As proof that he was working jointly with the chamber, Lynne said it has a page on its website dedicated to the Recovery Business Council.
Lynne sent two emails requesting an apology. On April 25, his law partner, Adam Beighley, wrote in support of Lynne to the mayor and city commissioners. Beighley wrote that Lynne wanted a public apology at the next City Commission meeting.
The mayor did not apologize despite Beighley’s request at the May 2 meeting.