Task Force Exhibits Passion & Leadership

heroin

Our country is suffering from a deadly crisis.

People are dying from coast to coast as a result of heroin and other forms of substance abuse.

It’s not a new problem, but it’s growing, and right now heroin, flakka and fentanyl are taking a heavy toll. A very heavy toll.

Our community is really suffering. Nearly 800 drug related calls for service in the first six months of the year, according to recent stats. People are overdosing or dying with shocking regularity on our streets and in homes.

Our police officers and firefighter/paramedics –many very young– are having to cope with a humanitarian crisis, hitting people with doses of Narcan (which reverses the effects of heroin) to save lives. But Narcan is not much of a match for fentanyl, which is incredibly powerful. It’s a lot to deal with and despite incredible efforts by dedicated people the flood continues.

Recently, I have gotten to know and admire Suzanne Spencer, who for five years has been the volunteer leader of Delray’s Drug Task Force. The effort dates back to a former commission colleague of mine, the late Pat Archer, who was passionate about the issue and led early efforts to gather the community and respond to the challenges posed by substance abuse disorder.

Suzanne Spencer has taken the task force to new heights and it has taken a toll on her and others involved on the front lines of this issue. There’s not a lot of good news to share–yet. But Spencer and the people she has attracted to the task force understand that if our community is going to make a positive impact it will require collaboration, communication, information sharing and a whole lot of resources and smart problem solving. They are making a difference.

I have had the privilege of attending the past two task force meetings hosted by our Chamber of Commerce. The meetings attract a wide variety of players from our police chief (and other local law enforcement from Delray and neighboring cities) and the State Attorney’s Office to corporate citizens such as Ocean Properties, treatment providers, city officials from as far away as Pompano Beach, hospital administrators, insurers, EMS providers, Congressional staff and attorneys.

I was particularly touched to see retired Police Officer Jeff Messer at the meetings. Jeff is volunteering many hours in an effort to talk to people in the grips of addiction. It is heartening to see experienced officers stay involved— their experience and perspective is simply invaluable. Many dealt with the crack cocaine epidemic, which also took a very heavy toll on Delray Beach.

But as difficult as the crack wars were, heroin  and its tentacles may prove to be even more challenging. The issue leeches into human trafficking, patient brokering, insurance fraud and all sorts of exploitation.

Another retired police officer, my friend Marc Woods, now works for the city dealing with sober homes and related issues. Marc is a very passionate guy. He has seen a lot. What he’s seeing today overwhelms him—the emotional toll of seeing what happens to people caught up in a twisted system in which bad actors exploit and destroy lives is very evident when you talk to Marc.

It is important to note that there are good providers in our community, doing good work with people who need help to return to their families and to a productive life.

But it’s the bottom feeders that are literally soaking people for money and playing with their lives that trouble the officers and paramedics that I talk to.

Heroin abuse is a particularly vexing challenge even for good providers, because according to those in the know, the condition of patients coming into treatment is deteriorating—they are in the grips of an addiction that is very hard to shake.

It is gratifying to see the heart and minds sitting around the table at the Chamber from all walks of life and disciplines trying their best to make an impact.

We should take pride that our community is pioneering a lot of innovative tactics, but we must also realize that we haven’t made a dent yet.

Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman is deploying a three-pronged approach to the crisis: enforcement, education and lifesaving.

He has reached out to FAU’s school of clinical social work in an effort to bring more resources to the cause.

More resources will be needed because the scope of the problem is ever changing. For instance, last week law enforcement was tipped to a large shipment of flakka that arrived in the area. That drug is incredibly powerful and causes very volatile and strange behavior in users. In addition, local addicts are now carrying their own Narcan, meaning that they are self-administering or working with buddies to prevent overdose deaths. But without professional medical attention or an understanding of the drug’s half-life, the behavior is seen as extremely dangerous.

Delray police are seeking to hire a clinical social worker and that would to be a very wise hire to help our community cope better with this issue.

Meanwhile, Delray Medical Center is expanding its facilities to add 12-15 beds by year’s end to deal with behavioral health emergencies and local businesses are joining the task force so they can help employees and better understand the issue.

Thanks to efforts by people like Marc Woods and Delray police and code enforcement officers so-called “overdose houses” used to exploit addicts are being identified and shut down. But despite these proactive efforts, nobody is under the illusion that victory is near.

“We haven’t made a dent yet,” said Goldman. “But we will.”

I believe him.

I also believe in collaboration and that’s what makes what the task force is doing so important and so extraordinary. They deserve our support. Suzanne Spencer is what leadership is all about, bringing people together to solve challenges and make a difference. Over time, they will. They already have.

 

 

Comments

  1. Patricia Sciarillo says:

    While I have sympathy for people trying to put their lives back together I feel our City has become a drug capital…too many of these halfway houses or whatever they are called are springing up..time to end this.. allowing them in family neighborhoods is not a good idea…I don’t claim to know the answer…all we can hope is for people to get well and go back to their families…

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Hi Ms. Sciarillo.
      I understand what you are saying. It is important to note that cities are prohibited by federal law, ADA and Fair Housing, from restricting the homes you are referring to from locating in neighborhoods.
      HUD is supposed to issue a new letter of guidance in August that many hope will give some tools. So stay tuned and thanks for your comments.

  2. One social worker? Just one? We have a drug crisis here in wonderful Delray Beach and one social worker is not enough.

  3. I am a retired nurse with a degree in Behavioral Science. I wonder if i could get involved with the task force?

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