Monday, August 15, 2022

Should Delray Sue Over Opioids? A Downtown Boca Shuttle and More

Will Delray take legal action over opioid crisis?

Macro of oxycodone opioid tablets

Should Delray Beach, beset by problems related to prescription painkillers, join class-action lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry? Mayor Cary Glickstein will raise the issue at tonight’s city commission workshop.

Governments at all levels are going to court against the distributors of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioids that began flooding the country a decade ago through overuse and illegal trafficking. The pills created a new generation of addicts.

When law enforcement shut down “pill mills,” cheap, illegal heroin replaced the legal opioids and overdoses skyrocketed. Governments have faced new costs to deal with the epidemic. The lawsuits seek compensation.

Last month, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued five companies—among them Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson—alleging that they violated state laws and committed Medicaid fraud. Mississippi has filed a similar lawsuit. So has McDowell County, West Virginia, which has the highest overdose rate in the nation. Another party is Welch, a town of roughly 2,000 that is in McDowell County.

In April, Glickstein told me that he spoke to CEOs of Delray Medical Center and Bethesda Hospital on this topic. They talked, Glickstein said, “about patients being discharged with potentially addictive opiate painkillers.” The prescriptions “are then extended by private physicians, and new addicts are created” who “until that point were highly functioning adults living normal, productive lives.

“Now introduce synthetic and far more powerful heroin into the mix, and it’s not surprising that the faces of those we are losing every day to this scourge are the faces of friends and family members.”

Glickstein, an attorney, told me last week that after following recent developments he believes that “the timing is appropriate now.” Cases are not being dismissed. “This is how you start incremental change.”

That change may be more than incremental in Delray Beach. This month or next, the planning and zoning board probably will consider the next sober home regulation. The city already required applicants seeking “reasonable accommodation” to reapply every year. The new rule would raise the standards for group homes seeking such accommodation for those in recovery, who under federal law are a protected class.

The city also is acting to prevent the clustering of sober homes in certain neighborhoods. Such concentration hurts not just homeowners but those trying to stay clean. It makes it easier for bad operators to use patients as ATMs without providing good treatment. “All this is being done,” Glickstein said, “in the name of consumer protection.”

Elsewhere, the legislature this year increased the penalties for deceptive marketing of group homes. Previously, the legislature acted against patient brokering. The Food and Drug Administration just asked the maker of Opana—an opioid painkiller—to pull it from the market. Physician groups are recommending against over-prescription of opioids. “A lot of tumblers,” Glickstein said, “are falling into place.”

It would be heartening if Florida joined the legal pushback against opioids, as Florida joined the tobacco lawsuit two decades ago. Pam Bondi, though, has been an undistinguished—at best—attorney general in all ways, especially on the opioid crisis. That would leave the field open to cities like Delray Beach.

Downtown transportation opens floodgate of options for Boca

Boca Raton caused a free-for-all with its handling of the western golf course and its potential sale. Another is developing over a downtown transportation system.

The city council has whiffed repeatedly on a replacement for the Downtowner, which ended service a year ago. The company offered free rides, with revenue coming from advertising on the cars. Two familiar issues dominated discussion at Monday’s community redevelopment agency meeting:

  • What kind of service should the city seek? On-demand with a phone app? A scheduled trolley?
  • What should be the service area? Just downtown? Downtown and the area around Florida Atlantic University, to attract students? Downtown and the beach?

Those details matter in ways not always apparent. The city might decide to subsidize a service, if the need for one became that much of a priority. Delray Beach provides its free trolley with money from the CRA. In Boca Raton, the CRA does not include the beach, so any subsidy would have to come directly from the city.

Boca Raton considered seeking formal proposals, a process that could take months. On Monday, however, a lawyer named Michael Liss pitched a company called The Free Rider, which operates in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other cities. A representative of a similar service called Slidr also spoke. There was talk of the city spending $5,000 a month for advertising on cars. Such money, in effect, would be a subsidy.

So the staff will prepare the proposal for bid, but the city simultaneously will wait to hear more from companies that might provide what Mayor Susan Haynie called the “quickest and easiest” service.

Singer vs. Weinroth

Under one scenario, Boca Raton council members Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth would face each other in a special election for mayor in 2019. During Monday’s CRA meeting, they faced off over a downtown parking garage.

Singer wants the city to move ahead with a garage east of the downtown library, on the west side of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Weinroth wants the city to look for a location on the east side of the tracks.

Basically, Singer and Weinroth are debating which consultant the city should believe. Singer goes with Song & Associates, which is working on the government campus plan. Weinroth goes with Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, who is working on the student district near Florida Atlantic University.

At its May goal-setting session, the council favored the location near the library. But at a subsequent meeting, while briefing the council on the U.S. 1 study, Delaney noted that a garage west of the FEC would need an overpass to connect it with downtown. Tri-Rail, Delaney said, discovered that commuters don’t like overpasses. Delaney also suggested that a garage on the west side of the tracks would be less efficient.

That Singer-Weinroth election scenario goes like this: Weinroth wins re-election next year; Haynie resigns to run for the county commission; a special election for mayor takes place in early 2019. Singer said Monday that he wants a garage complete in late 2018, in time for tourist season. “I think we need a plan now.” Haynie disagreed, calling the library “not the right location.”

Debate on the garage will resume at the July 24 CRA meeting, when the city’s consultant will present a downtown parking report.

Delray Commission meeting agenda

There will be no votes at today’s Delray Beach City Commission workshop meeting. But in addition to Mayor Glickstein’s thoughts about opioid legislation, the commission will deal with three other meaty topics.

  • Parking. The staff will recommend that the city install paid meters in all city-owned spaces that don’t have them. Staffers want the commission to let them create a system for those meters that would “set the highest parking rate where and when the demand is the highest, and the lowest parking rate where and when the demand is the lowest. Basically, that would be surge pricing.

That system would include options for monthly and seasonal rates, resident rates and rates for employees of downtown businesses. In addition, the staff wants permission to set rates for non-high demand usage (monthly rates, seasonal rates, resident rates, Central Business District employee rates, etc.).

Delray Beach has 3,277 public parking spaces—727 in the garages near Old School Square, 941 on downtown streets, 909 in downtown lots and 700 on the beach. Aside from the beach spots, which have meters, all the other spaces are free or mostly free.

  • Rising seas. The commission will get an update from the Rising Waters Task Force. The report will call for more money to help Delray Beach cope with the effects of climate change.

The report says, “The costs of preparing and implementing adaptation now is (sic) lower than the cost of recovery and responding to problems once they occur.” The task force says the city must plan for the investments over periods of 15 years, 30 years and 50 years, “or roughly the lifecycle of various municipal infrastructure elements and private property buildings. . .The investment amounts are NOT staggering if viewed over these long-time horizons. The amount of infrastructure costs and reserves needed over the long haul will require buy-in from the city’s taxpayers into a long-term sustainability program, which can only be accomplished through a serious, continuous, and transparent public engagement program.”

  • Historic preservation. A task force will recommend that Delray Beach offer more incentives and toughen current rules, especially those against letting a property deteriorate. The task force wants renewed emphasis on preservation in Frog Alley, on North Swinton Avenue and Atlantic Avenue.

Follow the yellow striped lines

By Wednesday, a minor annoyance at a major Boca Raton intersection should end.

The Florida East Coast Railway crossing at Dixie Highway and Palmetto Park Road was the site of safety improvements that will help create a quiet zone—no horns—along the corridor. In making the improvements, however, All Aboard Florida’s contractor misjudged the striping of the left-hand, westbound turn lane. Following the lines, you wound up in the median.

This week, the lane is being restriped. The work closed the intersection Monday night and will close it tonight. According to an All Aboard Florida spokeswoman, one lane should be open Wednesday night.

When All Aboard Florida begins its passenger service, 32 trains a day will travel on the FEC corridor—16 each way. The spokeswoman said service is still planned to start in “late summer.” She offered no details.


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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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