Two Overdose In Palm Beach Shelters During Hurricane Irma

Sep 12, 2017

Two people overdosed on opioids while in shelters in Palm Beach County during Hurricane Irma, officials said.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says the two victims were revived with an overdose reversal drug.

“They have been saved and treated medically,” Aronberg said.

Another woman fatally overdosed on heroin Saturday night at a Boynton Beach motel.

Officials had worried that overdoses might become an issue in shelters before the hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

The problems of alcoholism and addiction become more public in a storm, said researcher Andrew Golub of the National Development and Research Institutes in New York, who studied illicit drug users in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"During a storm, it becomes harder to hide and cope with one's addiction in private," Golub said.

Scientists learned from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy . Drug users took chances during storms, researchers found, avoiding evacuation to stay near their dealers or sharing needles with strangers putting themselves in danger of HIV and hepatitis. Those in treatment missed doses of medications and went back to street drugs to avoid withdrawal sickness. During Sandy, clinics that lost power measured methadone by candlelight.

"Disasters like this interrupt treatment," said Enrique Pouget, whose team interviewed 300 injection drug users in New York after the 2012 storm.

Methadone programs, highly regulated by the government, are required to have disaster emergency plans. The state of Florida, in cooperation with federal authorities, granted methadone clinics discretion to provide up to five days of medication ahead of Hurricane Irma.

After storms, there can be problems too, experts say.

Mark Kinzly, co-founder of the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, said his group distributed around 500 kits to clinics along the Texas coast in the midst of Harvey cleanup. Storms can be disastrous for people with addictions because they interrupt routines and schedules, he said.

"There's people that are going to be without jobs and without homes because of this hurricane," Kinzly said. "They're going to be less stable in their overall lives to begin with. That can be dangerous."

In the aftermath of flooded Houston, Julie Boon oversaw repairs at a sober-living home while giving advice to residents based on her own 30 years of sobriety.

"Have faith in the foundation you've built," said Boon of Eudaimonia Recovery Homes. "If you get into fear, reach out and speak to somebody."

People in long-term recovery have the ability to cope with disasters, said Julia Negron of Venice, Florida, a former injection drug user and organizer of the Suncoast Harm Reduction Project, a grassroots group working to prevent overdoses.

"You deal with life as it comes. So here you go: Here's a test," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.