Sunday, November 28, 2021

Opioid Deaths Down in Delray After a Brutal 2020, Golf in Boca & More

Overdose deaths in Delray Beach that spiked last year are trending down.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and stayed, 63 people suffered fatal overdoses. That was a sharp increase from 2019. This year, however, the police department has reported only three fatal overdoses.

Fire Chief Keith Tomey and Assistant Chief of Operations Greg Giaccone were reluctant to speak at length about the reasons behind the numbers. They leave most of the analysis to the police department.

Giaccone did note, however, that when “a lot of things shut down” last spring and summer, those in recovery “really struggled” as pandemic restrictions disrupted in-person support systems. Many in recovery also lost jobs when restaurants closed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 81,000 overdose deaths nationwide in the 12 months ending last May. That was the highest total for any one-year period and reflected a trend that began in 2019 and that the pandemic accelerated. In Florida, deaths increased 50 percent year over year between January 2020 and August 2020. 

Last year reminded Delray Beach officials of the terrible days in 2016 and 2017 when overdoses spiked and paramedics answered calls from such public places as East Atlantic Avenue coffee bars. Delray Beach responded by passing laws that cracked down on bad operators of sober houses. The police department hired Ariana Ciancio, an addiction specialist, as a “service population advocate” for those in recovery. It was a novel non-law enforcement reform by a law enforcement agency.

Though fatal cases were much higher last year, overall overdoses didn’t rise quite as proportionally. There were 373, compared to 245 in 2018. Through Monday, according to police department figures, there had been 78. If the trend continues, it will be a drop from 2020.

Another sign of overall improvement comes from within the fire department. At the height of the opioid epidemic, the city began offering counseling to paramedics. Some were treating several overdoses shift after shift.

“We were hiring kids,” Tomey said. After all the calls, some were getting “callous. It was a form of (post-traumatic stress disorder.) In 36 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like that.” Demand for the counseling is down, and paramedics now get extra wellness time.

Despite safety precautions that departments everywhere have taken since last March, Tomey said 46 of the department’s 180 sworn employees have contracted COVID-19. Some required hospitalization. Fortunately, all are back to work. “We have had no cases in some time.”

Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic is not over. Like the pandemic, however, there are heartening signs that 2021 will not be a repeat of 2020.

Delray opioid lawsuit

Speaking of the opioid epidemic, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said she soon would schedule an executive session–public excluded–for the Delray Beach City Commission to discuss a potential settlement of the city’s lawsuit against those responsible for the epidemic.

One class-action suit by local governments goes after Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen. Johnson & Johnson makes opioids. The other defendants distribute them.

Last November, they proposed a $26 billion settlement. Separate litigation involves Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, and the Sackler family that controlled the company.

Gelin said negotiations have reached the point at which “numbers and allocations” are being discussed. All the non-Sackler cases have been consolidated in Ohio. The Sackler lawsuit is in bankruptcy court in Boston.

And a doc on the topic

As settlement talks go on, HBO on May 10 will premiere the two-part documentary “The Crime of the Century.” HBO advertises the project as “a searing indictment of Big Pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable overproduction, reckless distribution, and mass abuse of synthetic opiates.”

The director is Alex Gibney, who has a track record in this genre. A previous Gibney project was “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” It examined the company that pushed energy deregulation and then went bankrupt.

Golf is covered in Boca

Boca Raton is done with the idea of more golf.

That wasn’t the only takeaway from Monday’s meeting between the city council and the board of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District, but it might be the most notable.

For three years, the council and board feuded over a proposed course on the old Ocean Breeze layout in the Boca Teeca community. Last year, the Boca Raton Resort & Club donated to the city the Boca Country Club course, clubhouse and tennis facility. The course will replace Boca Raton Municipal, which GL Homes has a contract to buy.

Yet BPD board member Robert Rollins noted that the city has 27 holes at Boca Municipal, nine of which form a short “executive” course. Boca County Club has the standard 18 holes.

Rollins said 22,000 rounds were played last year at the executive course. Perhaps the council would consider building an executive course on the 200-plus acres of Ocean Breeze?

Not one council member agreed. The district owns the eastern side of Ocean Breeze and, in theory, could build such a course on its own. Practically speaking, however, the cost would be too high, given the district’s other commitments. Discussion about golf may continue, but the council’s position seems clear.

On Tuesday, I’ll have much more about the meeting.

Where were the masks at Delray Beach Market?

County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, drew criticism with other elected officials for not wearing masks when they attended Saturday’s Delray Beach Market opening.

The issue arose during Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioner Melissa McKinlay noted that the county still requires masks for large indoor gatherings. Pictures showed Weinroth, other commissioners and State Sen. Lori Berman maskless as they chatted up Gov. DeSantis.

I asked Weinroth on Wednesday if he had been hearing about it. “Oh, yeah.” Weinroth pointed out that he has been fully vaccinated that he and the others were tasting samples from a pizza vendor. “It’s a little hard to do that when you have a mask on.”

He also cited the CDC’s guidance Monday that vaccinated people could be around others outside if they also have been vaccinated. McKinlay, he said, “went out of her way” to criticize her colleagues.

But, Weinroth said, “I understand.” Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “I think the mandate sets an example of what we expect to do. It’s kind of like what you teach your children. You’ve got to walk the walk, because your children are going to follow you. And I think our community has followed us.”

Illegal tree removal in Delray?

A special magistrate hearing on Friday will determine whether the developer of Sundy Village in Delray Beach illegally removed trees.

The agenda cites five alleged violations for removals near intersection of Atlantic and Swinton avenues. The allegations are against Sundy Village West, an entity of Boca Raton-based PEBB Capital. PEBB took over the project after two other developers. Speakers at a recent city commission meeting slammed PEBB for what they claimed was destruction of the tree canopy in that part of the city.

This year, PEBB touted its relocation program that has brought trees to less leafy parts of Delray Beach.

More Boca Bash ripples

Boca Bash 2021 is over. But Boca Raton is not done with Boca Bash.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, City Councilwoman Monica Mayotte vented about Sunday’s mass marine gathering on Lake Boca. Watching personnel from the city’s police department, the Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Mayotte complained about the public cost to supervise people who were “doing dumb things” and have “no accountability.”

The city has no jurisdiction over the lake. If the city received a permit request for such a large event, Mayotte said, a fee would cover “cleanup and security.”

Andrea O’Rourke raised the intriguing but likely impossible idea of the city annexing the lake. Mayor Scott Singer said he had spoken with DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff about options. All praised the law enforcement agencies that monitored a gathering twice as large as the one in 2019.

Boca Bash always annoys Boca Raton. The annoyance is higher this year, given the pandemic that forced organizers to cancel last year’s event. Council members seem intent on finding out whether they can make the event go away for 2022.

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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