A Bright Light in a Dim Crisis

Detective Nicole Lucas speaking at a recent Delray Chamber meeting.

Detective Nicole Lucas is impressive.

As soon as she begins to speak, you just can’t help but be drawn into her story.

She is the detective working with a task force dealing with sober homes and the terrible addiction issues plaguing Delray Beach. Of course, Delray Beach is not alone. Addiction—particularly to opioids—is a national scourge claiming more lives last year than the Vietnam War, a whopping 59,000 people.

It’s a stunning number and Delray Beach is in the throes of the crisis, along with many, many cities nationwide.

When Det. Lucas spoke at the Chamber recently she reported that there have been 340 overdoses this year in Delray. By the time this is published that number is sure to have increased.

There were 76 overdoses in May. Every month, that number is increasing. Young police officers and paramedics are seeing more death in one year than veterans have in their entire careers. The emotional toll cannot be quantified, but it also can’t be ignored or denied.

What impressed us the most about Det. Lucas was that she struck the exact right tone on what can be an emotional issue. She combines empathy for those addicted and their families with toughness toward those who exploit people caught in the vice grip of addiction. She also shows great regard for the men and women saving lives–the responsible operators who are providing a needed service in our community.

“We all know someone touched by addiction,” she told a capacity crowd at the Chamber. “It’s not a small, hidden corner of the world anymore, it’s an epidemic.”

She praised the responsible operators, the men and women who dedicate their lives to trying to save people from the destruction and damage of addiction. There were no broad brushes, no sweeping indictments of the industry, just sober analysis of the situation and a mature view of what needs to be done to save lives and communities.

Our Police Department, our Drug Task Force and our State Attorney’s Office are on the cutting edge of the issue. We were one of the first cities to deploy Narcan, which reverses overdoses, the Police Department is hiring a clinical social worker and we are leaders on the Sober Homes Task Force.

Already, Det. Lucas and her team have shut down scores of sober homes and the word is out that irresponsible operators will be arrested and prosecuted. It’s a slow and laborious task, but the experts in Delray— including veteran providers and responsible operators –say that they are seeing many of the bad guys pack up shop and leave for other locales. Still, nobody is declaring victory and the body count continues to rise.

The opiates are becoming more lethal, the addictions harder to break.

“They are fighting demons most of us will never understand,” said Lucas. “There are tons of good sober homes and treatment centers but we have to get rid of the bad ones, the ones who abuse people.”
Det. Lucas detailed cases where patients were brokered and monetized. Examples of abuse, paying addicts to take drugs so they can be paid for being delivered to detox; etc.

“We see attempts to beat these people down. ‘You are just a junkie, the police don’t care about you. Who will believe you?’ It’s abusive.”

Interestingly, social media has assisted Det. Lucas in her efforts to find bad operators. An active Facebook page has elicited tips and given her a window into the world of recovery. She guarantees anonymity while encouraging citizens to speak out if they witness unsavory practices.

But merely calling the Police to report a sober home is not enough; good operators have a role to play and are protected by federal law. But those who violate patient brokering laws are fair game to be arrested and shut down.

If you have any tips please call 1-844-324-5463.


Heroin: It’s On The Locals


America is experiencing a horrendous opiate addiction crisis.

But aside from a few brief mentions at the conventions, the presidential race is almost devoid of any discussion of the issue. And this week’s debate mentioned nothing about the crisis.

Meanwhile, cities across the country are being stressed to the max by heroin and opiate addiction. Delray Beach is one of those cities.

And aside from municipal budgets being strained, there’s the human side of the issue, with lives being ruined and or lost and front line personnel in law enforcement, EMS and health professions feeling the daily pressure as they try desperately to save people and make an impact.

Before we can “Make America Great Again” or be “Better Together” we had better take a long, hard look at what’s happening on the streets of our cities and towns. It is clear that solutions are not coming from Washington—which blew a promised deadline for a joint letter from HUD and the Justice Department—the political class seems more focused on fighting than fixing. So any solutions or even chance of making things better will have to come from local government. Addiction is a helluva problem and it’s getting worse.

You don’t have to look much further than Delray Beach, which continues to report record numbers of overdoses and heroin related calls for service.

As of two weeks ago, there have been over 1,000 doses of Narcan (a drug that reverses overdoses) administered by our Fire Department. The Police Department has given out another 83 doses of the costly drug. Grants for Narcan have dried up and prices are soaring. In fact, there is a price-gouging investigation that has been launched, according to officials.

The Delray PD has responded to 360 drug related calls as of a few weeks ago, more than West Palm Beach, which is a bigger city (290 calls). You can bet those numbers have gone up.

Boca is not immune either, no city is. In the first 7 months of 2016, Boca Fire administered 77 doses of Narcan.

So folks, we have a problem.

We are not alone.

We are not unique.

But this is a huge issue and according to city officials tasked with following the crisis, the number of homes being used to house people with addictions are growing. Sadly, while there are many excellent providers doing great and much needed work, there is a virtual cottage industry of bad operators in our community who are exploiting people for profits and doing far more harm than good.

Code Enforcement, our police department and the Fire Department are on the case—but the problem is complex, growing and multi-layered. We are nowhere near turning the tide.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots.

Our Police Department, led by Chief Jeff Goldman, is aggressively working on the issue from a holistic perspective. Aside from deploying investigative and enforcement resources, Chief Goldman is hiring a licensed clinical social worker to help the department understand and work more effectively with an increasingly challenging population; those in the throes of addiction. He is also closing in on a memorandum of understanding between the department and FAU, which would give the department an intern that would work on these issues.

Another bright spot is the work of the Delray Drug Task Force under the leadership of Suzanne Spencer.

The Task Force has become a valuable clearinghouse for information and collaboration. At the table: local law enforcement, fire officials, local prosecutors, representatives from Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s office, responsible providers and business leaders ranging from Plastridge Insurance to Ocean Properties. It’s impressive.

On the pro-active side of the challenge, Spencer is taking the message of sobriety into local schools. The effort, called “Living Skills in the Schools” should touch 18,000-20,000 children this year.

Another bright spot is the passionate work being done by retired police Lt. Marc Woods, who now works for the city on enforcement issues relating to housing. A bright and resourceful guy, Mr. Woods brings a ton of experience to the issue.

The long-awaited joint letter from the Justice Department and HUD is also imminent, but sadly past its deadline which is typical of Washington dysfunction these days.

Speaking of dysfunction, while Congress “approved” a plan to fight heroin recently it has failed to fund the effort—and you wonder why people are angry at the establishment politicians in D.C. Ugh…

Meanwhile, while prescriptions for opiates have quadrupled nationally in the past four years, we learn that manufacturers of the drugs have spent nearly $900 million on lobbying efforts to keep the pills pumping.



Million. Dollars.


So clearly, this will be on the locals, unless of course Washington wakes up, which isn’t likely.

We can tell you one thing for sure; nobody on the front lines can afford to wait. They are knee deep in dealing with the crisis.

It would sure be nice if they had a little help.

Task Force Exhibits Passion & Leadership


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.