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Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office will allow deputies to carry Narcan after years of protest

Rebel Recovery Florida has large cabinet of Narcan Nasal Spray. The naloxone is an emergency antidote that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
Wilkine Brutus
Rebel Recovery Florida has a large cabinet of Narcan nasal spray. The naloxone is an emergency antidote that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Families in Palm Beach County hoped protesting would convince Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to equip deputies with Narcan, which is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

In response to a national opioid epidemic, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said it will allow its deputies to carry a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The previous policy to not carry the medicine was an outlier in the state, where nearly two-thirds of the sheriff's offices issue Narcan and train their deputies, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In a letter to county commissioners, the sheriff's office says the policy change was based on input from "local, state, and federal partners" and that it "falls short of a long-term solution to the addiction problem."

The county should focus on "education, prevention and treatment," the agency wrote.

The change comes after years of protest from addiction recovery experts and families of overdose victims who have urged Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to use Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone.

"I'm ecstatic and I'm relieved," said Maureen Kielian of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. "I know that this will absolutely save lives moving forward, and it will absolutely save families from imploding after the death of a loved one."

The sheriff's office previously stated that county fire department routinely arrived at overdose scenes before deputies. A WLRN investigation found that the 10-year-old study making that claim was unavailable.

During a discussion surrounding the sheriff's office's $724 million spending budget at the county's commission meeting last month, sheriff's office Chief Frank DeMario said Bradshaw refused to equip his deputies with Narcan. That response sparked a back and forth between DeMario and commissioners, as well as public outrage among residents.

A wave of overdose deaths from opioids, often mixed with psychostimulants, has been raising old fears in Palm Beach County. Drug overdose deaths in the county were up nearly 30% in the first two months of 2022 compared to the same time last year, according to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's office.

And deputies in Delray Beach have been carrying naloxone since 2016.

The sheriff's office says it will now conduct a three-year study surrounding the effectiveness of its Narcan policy change.

"I hope it doesn't disappear like the 10-year study did," Kielian said. "And I will be absolutely following those studies and following that data that is captured." 

The Narcan deployment will require a separate budget of about $200,000. County Commissioner Melissa Mckinlay, who praised the decision on Twitter, said she made an official request to discuss the funding at the next budget hearing.

Addiction medicine physician Dr. Marc Scholsser, who helped develop opioid response programs at the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, cautions any delay in treatment during an overdose scene. He said naloxone will not hurt a patient “even if someone isn't overdosing on an opioid and you administer naloxone.”

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Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.