Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath has joined a growing list of public officials asking Gov. Rick Scott to help local communities deal with the opioid epidemic.
“I am writing to you with deep and growing concern over the deadly impact the opioid epidemic is having on our state. As Chief Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, I have witnessed how this escalating problem has particularly impacted Palm Beach County,’’ Colbath said in a letter to Scott on March 17.
“I request that you declare a public health emergency to marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”
“The statistics for 2016 are grim,’’ Colbath wrote, pointing out 551 overdose deaths tallied so far by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office for the first 11 months of 2016.
“The death toll, once December’s numbers are in, (is) expected to approach or even exceed 600 deaths.’’
Colbath’s letter also pointed out it costs Palm Beach County Fire Rescue at least $1,500 to respond to each overdose call. “The emotional toll to them, furthermore, is incalculable,’’ he said.
“Our county and municipalities are bearing the brunt of these costs. Businesses are being harmed; families are being devastated. .. We are doing what we can at the local level, but our resources are limited.’’
Although Colbath’s letter cited local statistics, he said the epidemic has spread beyond Palm Beach County:
“This is a statewide problem that requires a statewide response,’’ he wrote.
“With increased state help, and through your leadership as Governor, we can together stem this tide of tragedies.’’
Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus have also sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public health emergency.
McKinlay was the first local public official to ask Scott for a declaration, which Scott has refused to do.
McKinlay is helping lead the local fight after her then-chief aide’s daughter died in November of an overdose.