By Rich Pollack
As heroin use increases in South Florida, the number of overdoses and related deaths in Delray Beach also has exploded at a staggering rate.
In 2015, Delray Beach police recorded 144 apparent heroin overdoses and 10 apparent heroin deaths. In just the first two months of this year, the number of opiate-related overdoses has already reached at least 77 and related deaths have climbed to 10, matching last year.
Delray Beach police say the city, with its large recovery population, has recently become ground zero in Palm Beach County for heroin usage. A number of factors, including dealers from elsewhere hoping to lure users with free doses, are responsible.
Now, the Police Department has a new tool to use in efforts to prevent overdose deaths, thanks to a grant that will make it possible for police officers to carry doses of naloxone — a reversal agent for opioids — that can be administered through a nasal spray.
“This is another tool officers can use to save a life,” Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman said. “It’s another enhancement for our officers and for our community.”
Sold under the brand name Narcan, naloxone can almost immediately reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, reviving an unconscious heroin user in just minutes — sometimes in just seconds.
“This naloxone is magic,” says Delray Beach Police spokeswoman Dani Moschella.
Naloxone is not new in South Florida or Palm Beach County. It is being used nationwide, is available with a prescription in Florida and is becoming available over the counter in more and more states.
Delray Beach Fire Rescue has been using it in the injectable form for decades.
So far this year, in fact, paramedics have administered naloxone 77 times.
Thanks to a grant from Evzio, maker of a single-use naloxone auto-injector, Delray Fire Rescue will be provided with 200 auto-injector kits, each with two doses of naloxone. The Fire Department will then pass on the nasal-spray naloxone kits it currently has in stock to the Police Department.
Paramedics will still respond to every overdose call and will be using the faster-acting and stronger injectable naloxone if they arrive before police.
“Oftentimes a police officer will get to a scene before the fire rescue,” Goldman said. There are also instances where it may not be safe for paramedics to enter a scene before it is cleared by police.
As a result of the grant — an effort led by the Delray Beach Drug Task Force in coordination with Delray Beach Fire Rescue and the Delray Beach Police Department — the Delray Beach Police Department will become only the second department in the state to have sergeants on every shift equipped with and trained to use naloxone nasal spray. Sarasota County officers had them first. Goldman said that having naloxone available for use by police officers is just one tool to help reduce heroin-related deaths. Others include public education and enforcement of existing laws.
Moschella and retired Delray Beach police Officer Jeff Messer — a member of the Drug Task Force — are making presentations to those in the city’s recovery community aimed at letting people know that under Florida’s Good Samaritan Law, they can stay and get help for someone overdosing without having to worry about facing drug possession charges.
Suzanne Spencer, executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force, sees the increased use of naloxone by police and paramedics as an important step but believes follow-up is also critical.
“We know we have an antidote that can save lives, but then what?” she asked. “How do we get those receiving naloxone help so this won’t happen again?”