A Palm Beach County commissioner is demanding action on the growing prescription pill and heroin epidemic following the suspected overdose death of her chief aide's daughter.
The rising toll of addiction shows the need for local, state and federal government to work together to save lives, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.
"It's a crisis," McKinlay said. "There seems to be a lot of talk and not much action. It's time to take action."
She wants the county to consider a list of recommendations that include expanding the availability of overdose reversal drugs, creating a clean-needle program and increasing funding for medication-assisted treatment.
Tasha McCraw, 33, died Friday of an apparent drug overdose in upstate New York after a 12-year-long battle with addiction, said her mother Johnnie Easton, who is McKinlay's chief aide.
McCraw spent most of her youth in Palm Beach County and moved to New York in late August with her boyfriend. She had depression and tried several times to get off prescription painkillers, Easton said.
"I've always said, 'whose kid has to die before we make changes?'" Easton said. "I guess I got my answer Friday. It was my kid."
Palm Beach County officials have formed task forces to tackle the addiction crisis. At a recent summit in Boca Raton, officials reviewed statistics showing 1,460 overdose deaths were recorded in 2015 in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and six other smaller counties in southern Florida.
More needs to be done to help drug addicts recover, both McKinlay and Easton say. Wait times for residential treatment beds can span months. The stigma of addiction thwarts people from getting help. Outpatient services for people with mental illness and substance abuse issues are too thin.
"If you go into the ER with your arm cut off, they treat you right away. It's a life-threatening injury," Easton said. "If I show up to a detox or rehab with a life-threatening addiction, it's write your name down, and we'll call you when we have a bed."
McKinlay presented recommendations Tuesday from the National Association of Counties for staff to review. She also wants the county to reconsider regulating kratom, a herbal drug available at kava bars. Commissioners opted not to impose regulations when they took up the issue in 2014.
Palm Beach County's overdose task force is starting a pilot study in January to provide detox, medication and counseling to addicts who overdose and go to the emergency room. Earlier this year, Delray Beach Police officers became the first law enforcement agency in Palm Beach County to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan.
First responders with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue carry the drug as well, but deputies with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office do not.
As McKinlay called for action Tuesday, Easton prepared for her daughter's funeral in Mississippi, where she was born. She recalled how her daughter loved to sing and write poetry. She cared deeply for animals and the homeless.
Easton said no parent should have to experience what she was going through, picking out her daughter's clothes for the last time and looking for a box in which to bury her.
"My daughter's rock bottom was death," Easton said.
by Skyler Swisher