Would this Florida county's solution to the heroin problem fix ours?

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-17 18:54:59-05

CINCINNATI -- Although they’re more than 1,000 miles apart, there’s at least one striking similarity between Palm Beach County, Florida and Cincinnati.

The same demon that’s haunting the Tri-State’s families and draining resources lurks in South Florida too: heroin.

Houston Park leads a Heroin Task Force in Palm Beach County, where he works as a fire captain and oversees 1,500 paramedics.

He spoke to WCPO’s Heroin Advisory Board on Tuesday about a solution he hopes will reduce overdose deaths -- and lead more into recovery -- in his county.

“We’re taking acute detox to the streets with the involvement of all the community agencies to include fire/rescue, law enforcement and (the) department of health,” Park explained.

Emergency medics received more than 4,000 calls about heroin in Palm Beach County last year, Park said, and more than 460 of the county’s documented deaths were from heroin.

Authorities will revive overdose victims with naloxone, but often they see repeat users. Park said one day last year they revived three people three different times in the same day.

A suboxone pilot program at JFK Medical Center in Florida aims to give addicts a successful and aided path to recovery. Palm Beach County hopes to fund the program with federal dollars.

Right now, Park estimates a heroin overdose costs at least an average of $4,500 per hospital visit, and the suboxone costs roughly $100 per dose.

Suboxone, Park said, is designed for the purpose of rapid detoxification of heroin, and this new program would connect addicts with social workers and resources to help them with recovery.

“We work under a medical director who is giving us a written medical protocol that allows us to assess these patients on a day-to-day basis, follow-up give them the medications as necessary and track them,” Park said. “And as long as they’re getting the behavioral health interdiction and counseling with the medical assisted treatment, it shows success.”

Dorothy McIntosh Schuemake, with Butler County Family and Children First Council, listened carefully as Park spoke. Her daughter Alison died of a herion overdose two years ago at the age of 18.

“I don’t want any other mother to feel what I have felt,” said Schuemake. “I will do anything in my power to keep someone else’s child safe.”

For local addiction specialist, Dr. Mike Kalfis, medically assisted addiction treatment is like a loaded handgun.

“If you’re careful with it, you respect it, you know what you’re doing, use it appropriately, it’s a good thing,” he said. “It saves people’s lives. It makes them safe. If you wave it around foolishly, people get hurt.”

Cincinnati officials were briefed on the program as well. Cincinnati Fire Chief Richard Braun said the biggest plus is that it would get people off heroin, and after that, reduce the burden on first responders and hospitals.

The challenges with the program in Cincinnati would be the cost and following up with paramedics.

“We don’t have the extra staffing to do that right now,” Braun said. “So it would be a difficult time to cover that.”