By: Jeff Perlman Editor in Chief
For decades, Delray Beach has wrestled with the issue of recovery and addiction.
Last month, national media outlets mentioned Delray in high profile stories on the issue on MSNBC and Buzzfeed.
Police Chief Jeff Goldman has asked for 14 new officers and six civilian positions to beef up his ranks in part to handle an increase level of calls as a result of drug abuse.
Social media has also exploded with a litany of complaints about smoking and loitering downtown and extra police have been deployed to deal with the situation. The Starbucks outlet at Atlantic and U.S. 1 announced that it would pull its outdoor seating to crack down on people hanging out.
While the issue is particularly acute in recent months, it is not a new issue for Delray.
In the 80s, Delray was hit hard by the crack cocaine epidemic and entire neighborhoods were swamped by drug dealers.
For decades, the presence of the recovery community and sober homes has been a hot button issue in Delray which has been called a “recovery capital” by several media outlets.
Legislative efforts to limit the proliferation of sober homes has been met with fierce resistance and legal threats but there is an ongoing effort to address the issue through legislation, code enforcement, permitting and a variety of task forces.
The recent spate of publicity exposed a seamy underbelly in the industry. Buzzfeed and others reported on the exploitation of addicts who are monetized by unsavory providers and have ended up on the street or dead.
But the issue is a complex one. There are good operators as well and many success stories among people in recovery who return to productive and healthy lives.
Regardless, addiction has become a national scourge and Delray Beach is one of many cities struggling with the problem. An acute issue is the growing popularity of heroin, which is straining resources at the Police Department and Delray Fire Rescue.
In March alone, the Police Department logged 64 heroin overdoses, more than two a day. Recently, city public safety officers have been equipped with Narcan, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose if administered on time.
There have been several instances of paramedics giving Narcan to the same patient twice in a day. Recently, one patient received three shots within a few hours. At a cost of $54 per bottle, costs quickly add up.
In the first 104 days that paramedics were equipped with Narcan–it was used 215 times. Last year, there were a total of 221 overdoses logged.
If the pace continues, that number will spike to 780.
Fire Chief Dani Connor, who is retiring this month, said she added $30,000 to this year’s budget for the treatment.
She has told business and civic leaders that her department is also preparing to deal with Flakka, a highly powerful drug that has been known to cause wild behavior and fentanyl laced heroin, which is said to be 100-150 times more powerful than morphine.
Chief Goldman is trying to take a comprehensive approach to the problem using data analysis to determine the scope of the issue and “hot spots” were resources can be deployed. In April, the department arrested 12 dealers in an undercover investigation they dubbed “Operation Street Sweeper.” The dealers were selling heroin and other drugs.
“This is our message to the predatory drug dealers who come to our city to prey on the vulnerable recovery population here: sooner or later, you will end up going to jail. If you are dealing heroin, stay out of Delray Beach,” Chief Goldman said. “By no means is this the end of our enforcement efforts.”
Many cities across the country are experiencing similar issues, but because of the large recovery community, Delray appears to have an especially difficult challenge.
The Delray Beach Drug Task Force, a Heroin Task Force and other groups are trying to deploy strategies and find grants to meet the challenge.
Rutland, Vermont is often cited as a model for a community hit hard by heroin that has found a way to fight back. Project Vision, led by a police captain, brings a vast array of community services together to pool resources and come up with innovative strategies.
Delray is also proactively attacking the issue by targeting drug dealers, finding help for those addicted and looking for ways to crack down on those who exploit addicts and harm neighborhoods.
But anyone looking for an overnight solution is probably heading for disappointment, according to those closest to the problem.
By: Jeff Perlman Editor in Chief