Opioid epidemic overwhelms Delray Beach

Palm Beach County medical examiner says he doesn't 'see a stopping point yet'

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – As the midday sun shines down on Delray Beach City Hall, two men are taking drugs in the parking lot.

Shortly after, firefighters arrive. One of them men had overdosed.

It takes a triple dose of the opioid-reversing drug Narcan to bring the 25-year-old back. But many aren't so lucky.

"You probably hear 10 or 12 ambulances a day go by, and every time you see the fire truck and the ambulance behind it, you know it's another OD," Sarah Esptein, owner of Just Hearts in Delray Beach, said.

Epstein said she has seen people die at her doorstop from overdoses.

"It's just getting out of control," she said.

In part because of its vibrant downtown, Delray Beach has become a hub for more than 100 sober homes, which are places where people come to free themselves of their addictions.

"People understand that there's a need for valid treatment," Mayor Cary Glickstein said. "Unfortunately, the unscrupulous operators far eclipse the ones that are in this for the right reasons a long time ago."

The sobering truth is that many leave Delray Beach in a body bag.

"In fact, if you look at the statistics relative to the overdoses, it would suggest that they're accomplishing nothing," Glickstein said.

Under the current regulatory system, Glickstein said there's actually no real incentive for recovery.

"Under the Affordable Care Act, every relapse is treated as a new injury and those insurance benefits start anew," Glickstein said.

The cost of dealing with the problem is staggering.

"In fact, if you look at the statistics relative to the overdoses, it would suggest that they're accomplishing nothing," Mayor Cary Glickstein said.

This year, the city is projected to spend more than $3 million on personnel and equipment for first responders who deal with overdoses. 

"I don't think anybody wants to die and they know that they just almost died, but yet they cannot not shoot up again," Delray Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Todd Lynch said.  

In some cases, fire rescue may make a run to treat the same person several times a day.

"What’s disconcerting is I don't see a stopping point yet," Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Bell said.

The problem is also putting a strain on the Palm Beach County medical examiners office.

"We're going to have another, again, 200-plus increase in total workload because of these drug fatalities predominantly," Bell said.

"What’s disconcerting is I don't see a stopping point yet," Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Bell said.

The overdoses are not confined to young people.

"It's not the 20s, even the 30s," Bell said. "Now we're seeing 40s, 50s (and) 60s. We've had a couple of 70s."

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared a state of emergency for the opioid-addiction epidemic, which will allow $27 million in federal funding.   

Considering Delray Beach's costs alone, that may not go very far.

"If you have people checking into a hospital for two weeks, three weeks, and they check out and die a week later, there would be major repercussions," Glickstein said.

Lynch said something needs to change.

"I don't know what the answer is, but something's got to change," Lynch said. "We can't keep doing the same things."

Delray Beach passed an ordinance Tuesday that puts specific requirements on residential sober homes -- something the city hopes will give it more muscle in managing unscrupulous operators.

The city is also following in the footsteps of several cities across the country, planning to file suit against pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling the opioid epidemic.