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Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office will allow its deputies to carry Narcan after years of protest

Narcan photo by Wilkine Brutus.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
/
WLRN
Rebel Recovery Florida has a large cabinet of Narcan nasal spray. This emergency medication reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

In response to a national opioid epidemic, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said it will allow its deputies to carry a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

PBSO’s previous policy to not carry the medicine was an outlier in the state, where nearly two-thirds of the sheriff's offices issue Narcan and train their deputies, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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In a letter to county commissioners, PBSO says their policy change was based on their input from "local, state, and federal partners" and that it "falls short of a long-term solution to the addiction problem."

The county should focus on "education, prevention and treatment," PBSO wrote.

The policy change comes after years of protest from addiction recovery experts and families of overdose victims who have urged Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to use Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone.

Maureen Kielian leads the Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates.

"I'm ecstatic and I'm relieved," Kielian said. "I know that this will absolutely save lives moving forward, and it will absolutely save families from imploding after the death of a loved one."

The sheriff's office previously stated that fire department routinely arrived at overdose scenes before PBSO deputies. A WLRN investigation found that the 10-year-old study making that claim was unavailable.

During a discussion surrounding PBSO's $724 million spending budget at the county's commission meeting last month, Chief Frank DeMario said Sheriff Bradshaw refused to equip his deputies with Narcan. That response sparked a back and forth between DeMario and commissioners, as well as public outrage among residents.

A wave of opioid deaths, often mixed with psychostimulants, has been raising old fears in Palm Beach County. Drug overdose deaths in the county were up nearly 30% in the first two months of 2022 compared to the same time last year, according to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's office.

And deputies in Delray Beach have been carrying naloxone since 2016.

The sheriff's office says it will now conduct a three-year study surrounding the effectiveness of its Narcan policy change.

"I hope it doesn't disappear like the ten year study did," Kielian said. "And I will be absolutely following those studies and following that data that is captured." 

The Narcan deployment will require a separate budget of about $200,000. Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa Mckinlay, who praised the decision on Twitter, said she made an official request to discuss the funding at the next budget hearing for PBSO's Narcan deployment.

Addiction medicine physician Dr. Marc Scholsser, who helped develop opioid response programs at the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, cautions any delay in treatment during an overdose scene. He said naloxone will not hurt a patient “even if someone isn't overdosing on an opioid and you administer naloxone.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.