Medical Examiner reports at least 10 overdose deaths today

Is there a bad batch of heroin on the street?

The Medical Examiner tweets that they have had 10 overdose deaths today alone, raising the possibility an especially lethal version of heroin is being sold locally.

(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

The drug that has been most linked to heroin deaths is fentanyl, and variations of it, such as carfentanyl, an elephant tranquilizer. It’s sometimes mixed into heroin, sometimes sold as heroin, sometimes mixed with cocaine.  

In 2015, 216 people in Palm Beach County died after using fentanyl, heroin or illicit morphine, the three drugs at the heart of the drug crisis. Last year, more than 200 locals died with fentanyl in their system.

And at a recent National League of Cities meeting in Washington, DC, one out-of-state city official talking about overdoses in his community said,”We don’t have a heroin problem anymore. We have a fentanyl problem.”

Whatever the problem is behind the rash of overdoses, The Medical Examiner’s twitter message to users was a red flag: “You’ve been warned.”

Heroin crisis: Martin County asks governor to declare health emergency

The Martin County Commission is the latest Florida government to ask Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency to help communities deal with the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic we are experiencing across our state does not discriminate,’’ Commission Chairman Doug Smith said Friday in a letter to Scott.

“Recognizing and elevating this issue could provide additional resources and support we need to combat this deadly crisis and save the lives of hundreds of Floridians.’’

Smith’s letter arrived on Scott’s desk about a month after a similar letter by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.

Scott has not responded to McKinlay’s letter or to requests made state senate Democrats last month.

According to Smith’s letter, 341 people died of drug-related overdoses in the Treasure Coast region, just north of Palm Beach County, made up of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

“Those numbers increased 10 percent last year,’’ Smith said, adding that 88 people died in Martin County of overdoses in 2016.

“Since 2011, the Treasure Coast has lost 2,037 lives, with a loss to Martin County of 500 of our citizens due to drug overdoses.’’

Martin County Fire Rescue spent $8,160 on 272 doses of Naloxone in 2015, compared to $2,200 for 76 does in 2013, Smith said.

Heroin crisis: Post reporter to moderate opioids panel at national conference

As a lifelong resident of Palm Beach County, Clarence Anthony knows he is in a unique position to help shine a spotlight on the opioid crisis tearing apart communities across the United States.

Anthony is executive director of the National League of Cities, a Washington-based advocacy group and resource for municipal leaders and city governments.

Former South Bay Mayor Clarence Anthony

The league’s annual Congressional City Conference, which starts Saturday in Washington, will include two sessions about the opioid epidemic.

At Anthony’s request, The Palm Beach Post is scheduled to moderate a panel discussion on Monday with Huntington, W. Va., Mayor Steve Williams and Sally Satel with the Yale University School of Medicine.

On Tuesday, the NLC will host a Town Hall workshop on the epidemic.

Monday’s panel discussion will kick off the main afternoon meeting, which will be followed with a speech from Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

It’s unclear, though, Shulkin will discuss the opioid epidemic.

Anthony, a former mayor of South Bay, said he invited Palm Beach Post reporter Pat Beall to moderate Monday’s panel after following the newspaper’s extensive coverage of the crisis.

In particular, he said, he was moved by the newspaper’s front page on Nov. 20, 2016, which featured the faces of all 216 people who died of accidental overdoses in 2015 as part of a yearlong investigation into the crisis.

“With all those faces, that was the most impactful piece I’d seen,’’ Anthony said. I knew some of the names and the families.’’

The Town Hall will be similar to a panel hosted in February by the National Association of Counties. Attendees at that conference, also held in Washington, included two Palm Beach County commissioners.

Pat Beall, Palm Beach Post investigative reporter. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

More than 2,000 municipal leaders are expected to attend the NLC conference next week. Local leaders will include West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Lake Worth City Commissioner Andy Amoroso.

“This meeting is focused on advocacy and education,’’ said Anthony, who returns home to West Palm Beach most weekends.

“There are cities all over America that are doing creative things to address this problem. Safe injection sites in Seattle is prime example.

“Our ultimate goal is to give our elected officials the tools to go back home and implement some of the specific programs that other communities have found successful.’’

Another goal, he said, will be to continue encouraging leaders to look past the stigma of drug addiction that has delayed effective responses.

“We think we know that from our data that local government officials are the most trusted level. So when they go back, whether they like it or not, they have to be leaders in coming up with solutions and assume their role of leadership around this issue,’’ Anthony said

“And they can only do that through reading your articles and also learning from each other, what has worked what are some of the challenges with that they’ve recommended.

“We know this panel is timely. We know the workshop is needed.’’

 

Houston Astros’ ‘Little Mascot’: The boy who grew up with The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

He’s the “Little Mascot” of the Houston Astros.

And the nickname is entirely appropriate for the 4-year-old Martin County boy whose childhood has taken shape in and around the development of the Astros’ new spring training home, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Morgan McNicholas of Stuart, Fla., is the Houston Astros' unofficial "Little Mascot" (Photo courtesy McNicholas family)
Morgan McNicholas of Stuart, Fla., is the Houston Astros’ unofficial “Little Mascot” (Photo courtesy McNicholas family)

Morgan McNicholas was born April 6, 2012, just one month after his father was hired by Astros owner Jim Crane to help find a new spring training home for his team.

As the project took shape, Tom McNicholas, president of the statewide public affairs firm McNicholas and Associates, worked long hours, including many in his Stuart home, preparing documents and presentations for dozens and dozens of meetings with government leaders.

By 2014, as the Astros shifted their focus from a site in Palm Beach Gardens to one in West Palm Beach, the project “really started to click with Morgan,’’ said his mother, Krissy McNicholas.

They say kids pick up cues from their parents. Morgan, just 2, quickly became a keen observer and listener as his dad worked around the house, nearly “on the phone day and night with the teams,’’ Krissy said.

He started parroting buzz words: “Ballpark”… “Giles” (the first name of the Astros’ general counsel, Giles Kibbe)… “Art” (the first name of the Washington Nationals’ partner, Art Fuccillo).

(L-R) Washington Nationals general partner Art Fuccillo, Houston Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, Tom McNicholas, president of McNicholas & Associates, Astros owner Jim Crane and Nationals lobbyist Mark Foley listen to proceedings for a possible new baseball field at the Palm Beach County Commission chambers in downtown West Palm Beach, on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(L-R) Washington Nationals general partner Art Fuccillo, Houston Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, Tom McNicholas, president of McNicholas & Associates, Astros owner Jim Crane and Nationals lobbyist Mark Foley listen to proceedings for a possible new baseball field at the Palm Beach County Commission chambers in downtown West Palm Beach, on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

 

“I would be playing with the kids or trying to get them out the door,’’ Krissy recalled, “and Morgan would pull a plastic toy phone out of his pocket and tell me, “’I have a call with Giles right now.’’’

It was Kibbe who coined the nickname “Little Mascot.’’ One day, the Houston lawyer stopped by the McNicholas house to pick up Tom for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee.

“Once Morgan saw Giles walk in, he ran into our bedroom, rolled out a suitcase that Tom had left at the end of the bed and immediately started throwing his clothes in it,’’ she recalled.

“He packed pullups and his favorite stuffed animal. He really thought he was going to ‘Tallahatchee’ with them.’’

To help himself prepare for presentations and meetings, Tom McNicholas often sat with his three kids, including 3-year-old Mackenzie and 2-year-old Madelyn. He would show them photos and walk them through the construction process of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Morgan quickly became an expert on construction equipment, telling his parents how the bulldozers were preparing the 160-acre site for the two teams.

Morgan and Mackenzie McNicholas with Calvin, the Washington Nationals racing President, on Feb. 20, 2017 at The Palm Beach Zoo. (Photo by Rich Graulich)
Morgan and Mackenzie McNicholas with Calvin, the Washington Nationals racing President, on Feb. 20, 2017 at The Palm Beach Zoo. (Rich Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

In December, his dad built a sandbox in the back yard. “Morgan immediately went to work and built a ballpark in the sand,’’ Krissy said.

This past fall, Morgan brought his dad in for Show and Tell in his pre-school class. At Morgan’s request, Tom offered the class a kids’ overview of the ballpark project and read the book “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.’’

“Morgan also wanted to make sure the kids knew exactly who was going to be playing there, so each child received an Astros or Nationals hat, compliments of Morgan,’’ Krissy said.

The McNicholas family will attend the first game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Tuesday when the Nationals host the Astros.

Morgan has been checking off the days on a calendar at home marked “Countdown To Opening Day.’’

“I get reminded every day that it is coming,’’ Krissy said. “He can’t wait.’’

At least 60 people expected tonight at heroin strategy meeting

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she is expecting at least 60 people tonight at an informal meeting with families affected by the opioid epidemic.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

McKinlay and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio are hosting the two-hour meeting, called Opioid Addiction Community Conversation, at 6:30 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Main Library, 3650 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach.

“I hope we see families that would like to partner with us and be vocal advocates in trying to make change,” said McKinlay has said.

“The families that have been going through this, I want them to tell me and Commissioner Materio, or any other elected leaders that want to sit in, where they have hit road blocks, where they see gaps in services. I want them to tell us where the system is broken because they know better than anybody else.”

As of Tuesday, about 55 people had told McKinlay’s office they are planning to attend. Assuming many of those RSVPs will include more than one person, the attendance could hit 75, according to her staff.

McKinlay started planning the meeting late last year after the overdose death of the daughter of her chief aide.

Tasha McCraw, the daughter of Johnnie Easton, a longtime aide in McKinlay’s District 6 office, died Nov. 18 — one day after a Palm Beach Post investigation about the opioid epidemic was published online.

 

Heroin crisis: County commissioner “disappointed” by Governor’s lack of “urgency”

A week after asking Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the opioid crisis, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said Thursday she was “pretty disappointed” with the response she received from Scott’s office earlier this week.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

While in Tallahassee on Wednesday, McKinlay met with staff members of the Scott’s to discuss her letter, which cited statistics from The Palm Beach Post and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the sharp rise in overdoses, deaths and hospital costs.

“I was pretty disappointed. They didn’t think a declaration was necessary,’’ she said in an interview with The Post.

“There didn’t seem to be any recognition of how urgent this crisis is, as your reporting and the numbers themselves have shown. It was frustrating, to say the least’’

Scott, a Republican, was not in Tallahassee that day, so McKinlay, a Democrat, did not meet with him. She said was encouraged to work with the Attorney General’s office, which Scott’s staff told her was so effective in helping shut down the OxyContin pill mills in Palm Beach County a few years ago.

But McKinlay said the AG’s office was so effective because the governor declared a public health emergency in 2011 over the pill-mill crisis.

She also pointed out that governors in other states have declared public health emergencies to address the crisis. But Scott’s office was not swayed.

“There didn’t seem to be any urgency by the governor’s staff to address the issue,’’ she said. “But I’m not giving up.’’

McKinlay said she was encouraged that U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in remarks from the House floor in Washington on Thursday, called for more help for communities battling the epidemic

Also Thursday, McKinlay attended a House subcommittee hearing where State Attorney Dave Aronberg gave a Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force presentation on legislation to curb the epidemic and fraud in the addiction treatment industry.

On Wednesday, she will meet with more than 30 families affected by the opioid epidemic. The two-hour meeting, called Opioid Addiction Community Conversation, starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Main Library branch, 3650 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Anyone interested in attending should email McKinlay’s staff at: kburke@pbcgov.org.

Celebration of Life service Saturday for daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide

Tasha L. McCraw, who died at age 33 from an overdose Nov. 18, 2016. She was the daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton.
Tasha L. McCraw, who died at age 33 from an overdose Nov. 18, 2016. She was the daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton.

A “Celebration of Life” vigil for the late Tasha McCraw will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Boynton Inlet Park in Ocean Ridge.

Friends and relatives will gather on the beach just south of the inlet with candles and lanterns.

McCraw, daughter of long-time Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton, died Nov. 18 of a suspected drug overdose after a long battle with addiction.

McCraw’s death, along with a Palm Beach Post series published Nov. 20 about the heroin epidemic, prompted County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay to call for reforms and measures to help addicts.

Easton, McKinlay’s chief aide, said she hopes Saturday’s vigil will “bring awareness to the problems and needs created by the epidemic and lack of resources dedicated to the issues addicts face.”

Easton last week announced her resignation, effective Dec. 31, so she can move to her hometown of Sumrall, Mississippi.

Hail to the (baseball) chiefs: Coolidge and Hoover in town to promote Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover are in town today, golfing on Palm Beach, visiting Santa at the Palm Beach Outlets and mingling with fishermen at the Juno Pier.mall-kid

And it was hard to miss them, thanks to their larger-than-life heads.

“Calvin” and “Herbie,” as they’re known, are the presidential mascots of the Washington Nationals baseball team. They’re in town filming a video that will be shown before spring training games at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

We caught up with them at the outlets mall. Ben Walter, director of corporate partnerships at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, was kind enough to share photos from the mascots’ busy morning. We will catch up to them later in Juno Beach. Check out The Palm Beach Post later for a story.

tree
eye

golf

santa
logger
turtle
mom-point
diva-close
diva-duck
kingdom
head-duck

backs

Heroin epidemic: $25,000 donation to help county buy overdose antidote naloxone

A private Lake Worth drug treatment center today donated $25,000 to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue to buy Narcan, a brand name for the expensive overdose antidote naloxone.

The donation by The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches will “have true impact” on efforts by fire rescue crews to deal with the local heroin epidemic, Fire Chief Jeff Collins said at a news conference.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials with executives of The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches, a Lake Worth facility that donated $25,000 today to Fire Rescue to help pay for naloxone.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials with executives of The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches, a Lake Worth facility that donated $25,000 on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016, to Fire Rescue to help pay for naloxone.

The $25,000 will affect about 700 patients, or the rough equivalent of three to four months of emergency overdose calls, said Rich Ellis, fire rescue’s EMS chief.

So far this year, county fire rescue crews have responded to 2,383 calls where naloxone was used. By the end of December, Ellis said, the number for this year could nearly double the roughly 1,300 calls for 2015 in which the drug was given to patients.

Fire Rescue spent about $60,000 last year on naloxone. In the first nine months of 2016, the department has spent $183,000 on the drug. These amounts do not include tax-dollars spent on the drug in cities with their own police and fire-rescue departments, such as Delray Beach.

This year, Fire Rescue’s budget for the drug is $289,000. “That doesn’t mean we have given that much, because we have stocked the trucks,’’ Ellis said.

Next year, crews will start using a nasal spray version of the drug.

“That will be more efficient,’’ Collins said. “Currently when we administer Narcan, it comes by the box and when you break it open for one patient. They may need half the actual dosage and you have to throw the other half out.”

Collins said the donation from The Treatment Center will help address some of the problems detailed in a grand jury report released Monday by the State Attorney’s Office.

“This donation of $25,000 absolutely helps solve some of the issues that were identified in the community,” he said.

“This societal problem knows no boundaries in Palm Beach County. It goes from north to south, from coast to coast. We run calls all day long on heroin overdoses.”

Fire Rescue officials are working with County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay in her efforts to improve the community response to the epidemic, which includes lobbying state lawmakers for more money.

Although Fire Rescue is not actively seeking donations, they hope The Treatment Center’s gesture will spur other private companies in the addiction-treatment industry to donate money for naloxone.

“The donation by The Treatment Center is the tip of the spear,’’ said Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Houston Park, who has organized a countywide Heroin Task Force.

“They stepped up to the plate on a community effort. With depletion of Narcan as a quickly as we are going through it, any time we get money like this, it’s a tremendous support.”

Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Familiar names, familiar problems.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.
As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care.

Correct Care is running three of Florida’s troubled state mental hospitals, part of the state system blasted in a recent Tampa Bay Times/ Sarasota Herald Tribune investigation. It also runs Florida’s civil commitment center housing sex offenders.

That’s of particular concern, given GEO’s track record of treating inmates, exposed in a Palm Beach Post series.

On the other hand, not everyone is worried about Correct Care. Late last year, the company announced its work at the state’s South Florida State Hospital and South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center was recognized for meeting key quality benchmarks by The Joint Commission, the top accreditation group for U.S. health care organizations.

The same month, it announced it had snared a Department of Justice deal valued at up to $65 million to run the federal prison in Coleman.

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona program director for the American Friends Service Committee, when it comes to privatizing prisons and criminal justice, “There is a clear disconnect between performance and contract acquisition.”

AFSC is working with Grassroots to research privatization issues, and, said Isaacs, “We see consistent patterns of abuse, neglect, lawsuits, escapes, riots and somehow  these corporations are still getting contracts.”

That was the case with Corizon, which snared a $1 billion-plus contract with Florida to provide medical care to prison inmates despite a trail of horrific inmate care both in Florida and other states.