With overdose deaths on rise, addiction recovery advocates renew calls for PBSO to carry Narcan – Palm Beach Post

Nearly two in three Florida sheriff’s offices have their deputies carry naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.
Yet Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who leads the largest law enforcement agency in the state’s third-largest county where hundreds of people continue to die from overdoses, still does not require his deputies to carry it. 
A group of addiction recovery advocates is renewing calls to change that.
“This has got to stop. People are literally dying,” said Maureen Kielian, who leads Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. “He can help save lives and families from destruction and he continues not to do that.”
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Her organization, along with Our2Sons and Recovery Awareness Partnership, is hosting a rally and candlelight vigil Thursday outside of DiVosta Towers in Palm Beach Gardens, where Bradshaw has rented luxury office space while his West Palm Beach headquarters on Gun Club Road is renovated. The rally will be held from 5 to 8 p.m., during which those who have died of an overdose or who are battling addiction will be recognized and naloxone will be given out.
More than 6,000 people in Florida died because of opioids in 2020, a 42% increase over 2019, according to the last data available from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
Fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, was the leading cause of drug deaths in Florida in 2020. Just over 5,300 people died due to fentanyl that year, a 59% increase over 2019; 572 of those deaths were in Palm Beach County, the second most behind Broward.
Palm Beach County recorded 382 fentanyl analog-related deaths and 138 heroin-related deaths, meaning the drug was either the cause of death or present, the most of any county in the state. 
The advocates argue that everyone should carry naloxone, “no matter who you are, no matter what walk of life you’re on,” said Julia Perez, a peer support specialist at Rebel Recovery, which runs the state’s second needle exchange program. 
But especially all first responders, including law enforcement officers, should carry it, Perez said.
“They’re first responders. They need to adjust with the times. I feel like this opioid crisis, it’s affecting so many people. It’s just reckless not to carry Narcan,” Perez said, referring to a brand name of naloxone that comes in the form of a nasal spray. “You only have a matter of minutes to get someone back once they’ve overdosed.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera told The Palm Beach Post in an email that the agency conducted a study finding 99% of the time Palm Beach County Fire Rescue arrived at the scene of a call before deputies. The Post requested a copy of the study but has not received it at the time of publication.
“We are convinced that fire rescue (personnel) administering naloxone rather than deputies is more assuring that the individual ‘in need’ does not suffer an adverse reaction which (fire rescue) is trained to observe and immediately respond to,” Barbera wrote.
She added: “Every sheriff’s office and law enforcement agency is different, both in need, and demographics.”
Staci Katz, co-founder of the nonprofit Our2Sons, said she was “upset” when she first learned that the sheriff’s office did not carry naloxone. As a retired police officer, Katz said “it should be part of their toolbelt.”
“I don’t know how many lives we can justify losing,” she said. “If (Bradshaw is) so big on statistics, one percent is good for me.”
According to a 2019 survey by the Florida Sheriffs Association, at least 47 sheriff’s offices gave naloxone to their deputies. This includes Palm Beach’s northern and southern neighbors, Martin and Broward counties. The association endorses the idea of law enforcement agencies carrying naloxone and offers training opportunities.
Using naloxone to reverse an overdose often leads to withdrawal-like symptoms, chief among them being agitation, said Dr. Jay Kuchera, a pain medicine specialist who helped the Martin County Sheriff’s Office get a grant for naloxone in 2016.
“This does not outweigh the benefits of early naloxone administration,” Kuchera said. “Given the risks and the benefits, especially in light of the very potent synthetic opioids, the fentanyls and fentanyl analogs, we really are hard-pressed to come up with a reason not to administer naloxone as soon as possible.”
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who often advocates for resources to address the opioid epidemic, said she doesn’t agree with Bradshaw, but “will respect his decision.”
“I wish he would reconsider the decision. I continue to ask him as well,” she said.
Hannah Morse is a reporter covering Palm Beach County. She can be reached at hmorse@pbpost.com or 561-820-4833. Follow her on Twitter at @mannahhorse. 

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