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Opioid Crisis: Lawmakers Look For Solutions In Palm Beach County

Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton, speaks to a roundtable of officials, first responders and advocates about the opioid epidemic at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth on Aug. 8, 2017.
Peter Haden
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

State legislators came to Palm Beach County Tuesday to discuss the opioid crisis.

County officials, first responders, treatment professionals and advocates offered up stories from the front lines and ideas for reducing overdoses and deaths.

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala of Clearwater said he was surprised by the turnout.

Read more: Sunny Daze, Inside South Florida's Opioid Crisis

“For a guy from Pinellas County, where this is really not that big of an issue, it was stunning to me,” said Latvala. “The whole community seems to be zeroing in to solve this problem. So I think the state should do our part to try to solve it with the community.”

This year, Palm Beach County taken $1 million from its general fund to address the epidemic.

“This is the number one public health crisis facing our community and the country. This is the number one criminal justice issue facing our community and the country,” State Attorney Dave Aronberg said.

Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay said the epidemic is impacting manufacturing and business communities. “People cannot pass drug tests because of this,” she said.

Gabrielle Finley-Hazle, CEO of St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, said on any given day the center has up to seven newborns experiencing drug withdrawal.

“What will happen when these babies are older?” she said. “We need prevention programs to help addictive moms, treat patients for detox and for educating children.”

Latvala said he plans to take ideas back to Tallahassee — specifically, funding for more public drug treatment beds and holding drug users that overdose repeatedly.

“When they’ve had two or three overdoses in the same day already…whether we ought to look at some kind of mandatory hold process,” he said.

Officials report nearly 400 people have overdosed in Palm Beach County so far this year, up from about 300 at this time last year.

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Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.