The Department of Justice designated the last week of September as National Heroin and Opioid Awareness week. The Obama Administration also announced a “week of action” to raise awareness about the rising public health crisis caused by drug overdoses. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer hosted a Town Hall meeting at Lynn University. “The heroin and opioid epidemic is the most urgent challenge that we face in the public health arena,” Ferrer said, “this is not a fight one agency can face alone.”
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In addition to the Events like the one at Lynn University that helps raise awareness, Palm Beach County is also making efforts to directly combat this rise in overdose deaths by partnering the Health Care District of Palm Beach County — the taxpayer-supported safety net for medical services — with first responders to help addicts in crisis.
It’s a big first step for the district that runs the Trauma Hawk air ambulance, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade and primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services. The district last week applied for a $10 million state grant over five years from the Department of Children and Families that would allow it initially to provide services to addicts at their most vulnerable: right when they overdose and are taken to hospital emergency rooms.
The district will partner with Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, as well as hospital emergency rooms. The first stage of the plan is to get addicts in crisis who have been stabilized to an open bed at a local detox or drug recovery center.
The Health Care District is not just focusing on poor and homeless drug abusers, but aims to help any community drug users who need to navigate the drug rehabilitation and insurance industries to get treatment, as well as providing those without means an avenue for recovery. Property owners across the county finance the district.
The district’s CEO Darcy Davis says the second phase of the plan will establish a “centralized receiving facility” that would not only provide treatment for addicts but also mental health services. “We recognize the opioid crisis is significant and we need to act as quickly as possible to respond,” she said. “And you have to start somewhere. It’s a huge problem. We feel like we need to get involved.”
Responding to the needs of illicit drug users is part of a push by the district to provide more mental health services, Davis said. An additional $3 million is allocated in the district’s $200 million budget to invest in behavioral health by hiring psychologists and licensed clinical social workers in the clinics.
“This is a public health crisis. It is not just a law enforcement issue,” Ferrer said at a town hall meeting last month at Lynn University in Boca Raton. “The response has to be very holistic in its approach.”
Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Gauger said he has been greatly impressed with Davis, who was named chief executive of the district in March, and that the agencies are comparing notes to address the surge in overdoses and drug-related deaths.
“Anything we can do to reduce that problem is all positive,” Gauger said. “They will have a center where we can take people. It will be all-inclusive and not only help detox them, but they can get medication provided to stop their desire for the drug, get counseling, therapy. We are looking to work with families and get families on board so they can do the right thing to help get their loved ones to stay straight and sober.”
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