Moments before a cluster of congressmen began their 9:30 a.m. presentation at the 2016 National RX Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta Wednesday, the grim clock above them stood at 6,970: the number of people dead from an opioid or heroin overdose in the roughly 72 hours since the summit began Monday evening.
When the speakers arrived at the dais, it was 6,970.
“I’m from the north,” Marsha Martino told about 60 people gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion on the mental health epidemic in Palm Beach County. “I have never lived in a place so devoid of services.”
She spoke to a Leadership Palm Beach County class of about 60 at The Palm Beach Post on a panel with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Gauger, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and Peter Davey, a young man who has battled mental illness.
The system here makes it hard on the mentally ill, Martino said.
Released from treatment, a mentally ill person likely must wait six weeks for treatment. For some, the act of remembering an appointment six weeks away is an “insurmountable barrier,” she said.
In Maine, she said, a patient would be seen by a team of mental health professionals the next day.
Marx, who presides at first-appearance court, said he sees tragedy daily. When mentally ill individuals are arrested, they lose their job, which means they can’t pay for housing, which means they lose their daily shower and shave, which means they lose the chance to get a job, Marx said.
“They have nowhere to sleep. They’re sleeping in your neighborhood,” he said.
One repeat offender, arrested for having an open container, begged the judge to send him back to jail. “I’ve hit bottom,” the man told Marx.
The judge sought a bed for the man. Nobody had one. Finally, he found a place willing to provide a bed for free. He released the man, ordering him to appear in court two months later.
He did, the judge said. And he was good.
“Judge, you saved my life,” the man told Marx.
Without prompting, the man came back again 30 days later to show the judge he was still clean, still working.
“Nine out of 10 do not come back,” Marx said. “But isn’t it worth the effort?”
But such efforts don’t soothe the populace, Marx said. He hears: “Judge aren’t you getting soft on crime?”
“No,” he says. “I’m getting smart on crime.”
Parental denial is one of the biggest problems, Gauger said. He pointed to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, to illustrate.
“Many families are absolutely in denial when it comes to substance abuse or mental health issues,” the No. 2 official to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. “That’s what Adam Lanza did. He locked himself in the room and to entertain him, his mother took shooting and to buy weapons.”
Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.
Awareness is key, the panelists agreed. As is ending the stigma.
Paraphrasing the words of Mother Teresa, panelist Davey said, even when they act badly “love them anyways.”
Credit writer Dan Baum points for timing. But math? Maybe not.
Baum authored a recent Harpers magazine article suggesting that legalizing drugs might be the answer to the current fix we are in.
His Sunday interview on NPR about the legalization idea out there just hours before an estimated 1800 gather in Atlanta for the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. Among the attendees: President Obama, as well as the head of the DEA, the Surgeon General, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and various and sundry congresspeople.
Monday morning, a Daily Beast columnist weighed in on ending the war on drugs, citing Baum’s article and pointing out that Obama’s talk will take place in a city ravaged by drugs.
But while the timing is good, a crucial piece of math used in Baum’s interview is probably not only off base but out of the ballpark entirely.
He suggested about 4 million Americans have a drug dependency problem, citing Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, who Baum said puts the number of people addicted to hard drugs at fewer than 4 million.
What is being defined as a “hard” drug isn’t entirely clear.
But the feds, based on years of national surveys and emergency room data, estimate more than 24 million people are in need of treatment for addiction.
Even if you’re skeptical of figures provided by the federal government’s drug-fighting agencies, consider this: There are an estimated 600,000 or so heroin addicts in the U.S. Given its lethal dangers, heroin has all the headlines right now, but it is far from the most common drug of abuse.
Think oxycodone, benzodiazepines, Percocet; throw in methamphetamine, and cocaine. For starters.
If even those five drugs generated the same level of addiction as heroin, once you add in the heroin figures you start bumping up against four million number.
Palm Beach Post ReportersChristine StapletonandPat Beall are covering the four-day Summit live from Atlanta. The two are members of a Post team of reporters investigating scams in Palm Beach County’s $1 billion drug treatment industry.
It’s taken a while- a few years, actually- but today Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, which establishes a needle exchange for addicts.
Once politically unthinkable, the state’s soaring rates of IV drug use- and deaths- have slowly made the idea of providing clean needles to addicts acceptable.
Credit the track record of needle exchanges in reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. That helps explain why the Florida Medical Association threw its considerable weight behind the pilot program, and why a Republican-led Congress has lifted the ban on using federal money for such exchanges.
Florida’s program is, however, just a pilot. And the University of Miami won’t be able to use state or local tax dollars to get it up and running and keep it going.
But in a written statement, Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed optimism: “Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida,” he wrote.
For years, Youth Services International has fended off allegations of substandard care of the juvenile offenders it houses for Florida, and for years, Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has continued to award the Sarasota company lucrative contracts and defend its practices.
YSI is out as of August 31.
DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said in a written statement issued late Wednesday afternoon that the decision was set in motion by a former YSI employee who sued the company, alleging it faked documents key to its lucrative state contracts and failed to provide services to juveniles in its care.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office became involved, said Daly, and the resulting mediated settlement requires YSI to relinquish its contracts to run seven DJJ facilities — and reimburse the state for unspecified financial losses.
“While YSI believes there is no merit to this lawsuit, it made the decision to settle the case in an effort to put the four year litigation in the past and avoid the future cost and distraction of a continued legal defense,” said a company spokesman in a statement.
“To know that they are not going to be in the state anymore is absolutely marvelous,” said Palm Beach County commissioner Shelley Vana. Vana’s high-profile criticism of how YSI ran the troubled Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility focused Tallahassee’s attention on the firm.
And this from Broward County public defender Gordon Weekes, who represents youthful offenders and has a laundry list of issues with the firm: “It’s about time.”
Last August, YSI opted out of its multimillion-dollar state contract to
run the Palm Beach center for teenage boys after a surprise inspection by Vana found several teenagers with shoes that were falling apart. Some toilets weren’t working. Teens said they were hungry.
Further, in the previous eight months before her visit, two staffers were charged with child neglect after arranging a brutal fight between teenagers. One of the teens sustained a “possible fractured eye socket and a fractured nose,” according to investigators.
DJJ requested an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Even so, the agency largely defended its long-time contractor.
Yet the company has found itself under fire since 1997, when DJJ awarded Correctional Services Corp. — which later became YSI — its very first contract, to run the 350-bed Pahokee Youth Development Center in rural Palm Beach County.
Just months later, Dade County Circuit Judge Thomas Petersen reported “physical and psychological conditions (that) bordered upon child abuse” at the facility.
The company flatly denied Petersen’s findings. Months before the $30 million contract was set to expire, however, and one week before a slated Palm Beach County court hearing on conditions at the center, the company dropped the Pahokee contract.
It was, said state officials, a mutual decision. But not long after that, YSI picked up more state contracts to house and treat juveniles for the state, including the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility deal, and has been racking up contracts ever since.
In June 2013, just as the Dept. of Justice published its findings that the rate of youth-reported sex abuse at the Palm Beach facility was triple 2012’s statewide average, Florida signed off on contracts with YSI valued at $17.7 million. In October of that year, when Pembroke Pines police were investigating two YSI staff members accused of assaulting teens in their care, Florida and YSI inked an $11.7 million contract. And the company got a $29 million contract even as it was fending off a suit alleging civil rights violations at Thompson Academy in Broward County.
YSI will be out of the business of caring for Florida juvenile offenders as of August 31, said Daly, when new operators are expected to be phased in. Just who that will be isn’t yet known.
For 13 years, the place to be for local autograph-seekers during spring training was the sidewalk outside the Miami Marlins clubhouse building at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
Fans could reach through the bars of an aluminum gate along the team parking lot, allowing them to hand baseballs and photographs to Josh Beckett, Giancarlo Stanton and other Marlins players as they arrived for workouts in the morning and departed in the afternoon.
Those up-close-and-personal days are over.
When the Marlins open camp Friday, fans will not have access to the sidewalk in front of the building. They will be blocked at the entrance where Avenue A meets Stadium Drive.
If any fans manage to sneak by, they will find the gate covered by a mesh screen, recently installed to block anyone from reaching through the gates.
A Marlins official said the new “control mechanisms” are meant for the safety of young fans, who sometimes wander into the path of a car in their zest to collect a signature.
But fans are crying foul. They say the new measures go against what spring training is supposed to be about — the one place where they can get the kind of access to players rarely afforded in the regular season.
“They put that up to keep the millionaires away from the fans,’’ said Rich Reeves of Atlanta.
He might be right. According to people familiar with the situation, some players last year complained to team officials about the same “autograph brokers” – adults with bags full of baseballs and bats — who would set up on lawn chairs behind the fences at 5 a.m. every day to get signatures.
Ichiro was the big draw last spring, attracting fans who would gather four deep against the fence. With all-time home run king Barry Bonds joining the team as hitting coach this year, the Marlins decided to restrict access, the sources said.
But local baseball fans say the Marlins have had big-name stars in the past without any problems.
“I don’t understand why after all of these years they’re doing this now,’’ said Richie Nestro of Jupiter.
“This ballpark used to be real fan-friendly. I used to bring my grandson. He got to get close to Giancarlo and all the players. Now, by putting up this fence, that’s out the window.’’
On Friday, fans will see a temporary barrier. But crews have already removed two palm trees to make way for a permanent sliding gate that will be installed in March, said Marlins vice president Claude Delorme.
“We were having lot of issues with people and kids going into the parking lot as players were backing out their cars last year. We wanted to take everything out of the parking lot. This is really a safety issue for us and a control mechanism,’’ he said.
“The last thing we want is to wait for an incident to happen and then say ‘we should have’ (done something to prevent it).’’
At the request of new Marlins manager Don Mattingly, fans will also be blocked from the two practice fields closest to the clubhouse, Fields 2 and 3. The sidewalks along the other four fields, known as “The Quad” near Frederick Small Road, will be open to fans.
“Mattingly asked us to look into it so we could better control the transition (of players) from field to field during the workouts,’’ Delorme said.
Fans will still have plenty of access for autographs, he said.
“I know there’s a few people who have expressed concern but they can still get to the players as they’re arriving. They will have access to players as they are going to the field for the game,’’ he said.
But fans say it’s unfair to restrict access to the prime autograph spot — the gate by the player lot.
“I just don’t get the point, after all these years, closing it off now,’’ said Adam Alexander of West Palm Beach.
“My son is 9. He was looking forward to coming to get autographs. He’s disappointed.’’
The access restrictions aren’t the only changes at Roger Dean Stadium this spring.
The ballpark has gotten rid of the popular grass berm in right field where fans could pay $15 to $20 to sit on the grass. It has been replaced with a 136-seat capacity Bullpen Club section, where tickets range from $52 to $60.
All of the changes are prompting some fans to say they will abandon Jupiter next year and spend time instead at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals south of 45th Street in West Palm Beach.
“They’re turning off a lot of fans,’’ Nestro said.
“And a lot of people don’t even know about (the restricted access) yet. Wait till they show up in a few days. They’re going to be shocked.’’
The marquee above Harry’s Banana Farm on North Dixie Highway in Lake Worth has had some memorable non-PC messages over the years, from “We’ve got beer colder than your ex-wife’s heart” to “Welcome to Lake Worth: Batteries not included.”
But the self-proclaimed local dive bar had impeccable timing with its latest sign: “Cremation — the only time you’ll have a smokin’ hot body.”
City crews erected the fence, which is covered in green, last week as part of the city’s plans to prepare the site for demolition.
There is no demolition date and the city doesn’t even have a contract yet with a developer. But city officials wanted to get a head start on preparing the site for its new owner, so they erected the fence, said spokesman Elliot Cohen.
Once an agreement is reached, the five-story building will be torn down and a new hotel will be built in its place.
Old City Hall has been vacant since 2009 when the city government headquarters moved around the corner to the 400 block of Clematis Street. In March, homeless people started erecting tents around the building.
Most tents disappeared after complaints from residents and from St. Ann’s church, but a few holdouts remained as of last month. No one is on the site now.
The building’s design offered a unique perk: The top floor juts out 15 feet from the lower floors in all directions — a design statement by architect John Marion, who drew up plans for the building before it opened in 1980.
But the overhang also offers protection from the sun and rain, something enjoyed by city officials and residents who used the building for nearly 30 years and by homeless people in the past year.
Northern Palm Beach County’s wild scenery is the inspiration behind a project by a local craft brewer to blend beer and nature.
Twisted Trunk Brewing Company in Palm Beach Gardens this summer plans to roll out a custom beer in honor of natural areas such as the Loxahatchee Slough, Pine Glades and Cypress Creek.
“We’re leaning toward calling it ‘Loxahatchee Lager,’’’ said Fran Andrewlevich, brewmaster at Twisted Trunk, a subsidiary of Tequesta Brewing Co.
The plan is to donate a share of the proceeds from the sale of the beer to Palm Beach County’s department of Environmental Resources Management, which would use the money to help maintain the county’s natural areas.
“A lot of our customers hike and kayak in the natural areas. We just want to raise some awareness and make great beer,’’ Andrewlevich said.