The heroin and opioid epidemic rages on across the U.S., but some hope can be found in Palm Beach County, Fl. Countywide, the number of opioid overdose deaths has dramatically decreased. Last year, there were only 88 overdose deaths due to opioids in the first third of the year, as opposed to the first four months of 2017, when there were 233 — a 62-percent decrease.
As nationwide, opioid overdose deaths climb, it’s important to look to Palm Beach County to see what they are doing differently so other local and state government agencies can see which interventions make the most sense for them.
Delray Beach, located in Palm Beach County, has been referred to as the “rehab capital of the nation,” and they are now seeing a reduction in sober living houses, overdoses, and overdose deaths. City officials have credited several interventions with helping make this statistic a reality.
Among them, Ariana Ciancio, the new service population advocate, began following up with individuals after they were released from the hospital due to an overdose to help connect them with the services they need to get sober. This has helped break the cycle many people with addictions fall into of overdosing, getting back on the street, and overdosing again. In addition, the anti-overdose drug Narcan is now available in some pharmacies.
Perhaps most notably, this decrease in overdose deaths can also be credited to Palm Beach County’s Sober Home Task Force.
Sober Home Task Force
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg credits the Sober Home Task Force as the number-one reason for a reduction in overdose deaths. Since October 2016, the Task Force has arrested 68 individuals, and this number continues to grow.
The Sober Home Task Force has been behind an effort to eliminate certain deceitful practices common in the drug recovery industry. Namely, they have specifically been targeting patient brokering, the practice of referring patients to a recovery facility for a fee, which is often used to abuse the system without actually helping the patient.
While sober homes provide much needed transitional support to people who need an abstinent community and social support during their continuing rehabilitation, because they aren’t federally regulated, many of these residential facilities are, at best, not helping addicts with lax rules and no support sessions, and at worst, are fronts for drug use and human trafficking. These facilities are currently under federal protection under the American Disability Act, which prevents the federal government from implementing registration and strict oversight. On a national level, this issue needs to be addressed to regulate these facilities to create supportive, sober environments without discriminating against individuals because of their opioid addictions.
While Florida cannot make these regulations mandatory due to a lack of federal reform, the Task Force has led to further legislation that cracked down on unscrupulous sober house operators, which has led to an overall reduction in the number of these largely unregulated transitional living facilities. Last year, Sen. Marc Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation to prohibit drug addiction call centers from referring patients to treatment facilities without verifying if the provider has a proven track record of helping people get sober.
Palm Beach County is currently consulting other counties across the country about how to reduce the number of overdose deaths in their local communities with the help of these types of task forces. By using these efforts as an example, we may be able to reverse the current trend and reduce the number of overdose deaths nationwide.
If you would like to learn more about heroin and opioid prevention, we would love to help. Browse our website for more information, and contact us.