Rise in drug overdoses prompts push to hire more paramedics

Officials said fire and EMS departments have been going on 10 to 12 overdose calls a day this year

Sun Sentinel

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — More officers and firefighter/paramedics are needed in Delray Beach to help combat a scourge of problems attributed in part to illegal drug use, city officials say.

There has been a steep rise in calls to 911 — 56,000 last year, up from 48,000 in 2011 — part of which can be attributed to overdoses of heroin, oxycodone and morphine, Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman said.

The fire department has been going on 10 to 12 overdose calls a day this year, Fire Chief Danielle Connor said.

Calls to one fire station have escalated from 620 in 2004 to 1,300; Connor attributed many of these calls to illegal drugs. Firefighters, lifeguards and police officers have been trained to administer Narcan, a nasal spray that works as an antidote to opioid overdoses.

"This is pandemic to the community," Connor said. "It monopolizes a tremendous amount of time."

The chiefs made a presentation to the City Commission on Tuesday night on ways they can improve service to the public. City commissioners said they were stunned at the statistics. They said they will consider the drug blight as they plan for the next fiscal year.

"This is a sobering, depressing and scary thought," Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said. "To me, it's the No. 1 issue in Delray."

Many have called Delray Beach "the recovery capital of America."

Goldman said there are about 200 drug rehabilitation centers in the city, which accounted for 6 percent of incident calls in 2015, Goldman said.

The city has 156 police officers but needs 170, Goldman said. He also wants to hire a social worker to help the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addicts. Goldman also is seeking a front-desk employee, a civilian to oversee police body camera records, an equipment supervisor and a special-events coordinator.

Connor said emergency medical calls have risen from 8,769 in 2000 to 10,074 in 2015, a 14.9 percent increase.

Connor said her fire-rescue department has two firefighter/paramedics on each rescue truck but needs three for each vehicle, as Boynton Beach, Boca Raton and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue have. She set out several financial scenarios for hiring additional firefighters for the rescue trucks; costs would range from $173,000 to $832,000, depending whether the staffers were added permanently or only during peak hours.

In other business, Connor introduced the city's new fire chief, Neal de Jesus, who was fire chief/executive director for the Broward Sheriff's Office Department of Fire Rescue from 2009 to 2013. He retired as Coral Gables fire chief in 2002 and is a former Cooper City commissioner. His contract is still being negotiated, Delray Beach City Manager Don Cooper said.

Connor will retire in May after five years as chief and 23 years with the city.

"You leave the department in better shape than it's been in a long time," Mayor Cary Glickstein said to Connor.

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