PBSO official’s ‘low shot’ during Narcan debate with county leaders decried by recovery advocates
Updated: Jul 16, 2022
NALOXONE, THE LIFE-SAVING drug that reverses the effects of opioids and is commonly sold under the brand Narcan, is carried by sheriff’s deputies in nearly two-thirds of Florida’s 67 counties, according to one law-enforcement study.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols a county known as “the recovery capital of the world,” is not among them.
That’s been a simmering bone of contention for recovery advocates, who have campaigned for years to persuade Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s deputies to carry it. Their latest campaign brought the issue before the Palm Beach County Commission on July 12, prompting a public debate between commissioners and PBSO’s second-in-command, Frank DeMario.
Recovery advocates, including one county commissioner, found DeMario’s comments offensive.
The debate unfolded near the end of a daylong meeting during a discussion on the sheriff’s request for an $816 million budget.
“What is the issue with not carrying this substance to save lives?” Commissioner Maria Sachs asked DeMario, PBSO’s chief of law enforcement operations.
“I will carry the message to the sheriff,’’ DeMario said, “but I know he has told me in the past he does not want his deputies to carry it. We are not firefighters. We are not paramedics … and he doesn’t think it's necessary for us to have it.’’
Her questions touched a nerve with DeMario, who later shot back, suggesting that rather than telling the sheriff to arm his deputies with Narcan, county commissioners should concentrate on programs to stop people from abusing drugs.
“There are a lot of things you are asking us to do as far as Narcan is concerned, but what are you doing on the front end?’’ DeMario asked.
“There are a lot of things we can do to prevent people from using drugs. I don't see that many programs in place that do that. I don't see really honest legitimate rehabilitation clinics. We just had a double overdose of fentanyl in a rehab facility in Wellington that was supposed to be drug free,’’ he said.
When commissioners continued to press the Narcan question, DeMario double-downed on PBSO’s position.
“Mental health, drug addiction, homelessness. All these things are thrust upon us that law enforcement should be able to resolve or fix, and that’s not the case,’’ DeMario said.
“There are a lot of socio-economic issues that are the cause. Drug addiction, that’s not a law enforcement issue.’’
"These things carried in my pocket here are Narcan. There's no reason we cannot have our deputies carry it,'' former New York City police officer Staci Katz, who son is a recovering addict, told the Palm Beach County Commission on July 12, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 20).
But he did mention the work PBSO did with the state attorney’s office to close more than 100 pill mills since 2010 and how deputies have continued to arrest drug dealers.
“We do a lot, but you're gonna ask us to put another tool in our tool box. I think that's asking too much of what we do,’’ he said. “Now you are asking us that we have to save every life that we get to.’’
DeMario disputed firsthand testimony, given earlier in the meeting from parents of children with addictions, that police often arrive to overdose calls before paramedics.
He told commissioners he counted eight drug-related calls when deputies arrived before fire rescue, although he did not say over how long a period he reviewed.
“We did CPR. Fire Rescue got there and gave the Narcan and took them to the hospital and nobody died,’’ he said.
“When someone's heart stops, Narcan doesn’t revive them. CPR does and that's what our deputies are trained to do.’’
The sheriff’s office has claimed it relied on a study to assure political leaders that paramedics arrived first. But when asked in January to produce the study, PBSO said they could not because it was more than 10 years old.
DeMario’s remarks at the July 12 meeting drew a rebuke from Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who has been perhaps the county’s most vocal recovery advocate during her eight years on the commission.
“You have opened up a can of worms here,’’ she said. “What makes Palm Beach County so special that you feel the need not to carry it?’’
A recent Florida law-enforcement survey conducted by Ocala police Lt. Sandra Duryea found that sheriff’s in 44 counties and 27 police departments issue Narcan to their deputies to be administered by police officers or citizens.
Without mentioning the study, McKinlay told DeMario that many sheriff’s departments and police departments across Florida “are all carrying Narcan and don't have any problem doing it and think it’s the best practice,’’ she said.
“Why,'' McKinlay asked, "should your life resuscitation be dependent on the county you live in?’’
DeMario replied by saying he would share the commissioners’ concerns with Bradshaw, who did not attend the meeting because he is recovering from heart surgery.
His comments sent waves through the recovery community.
“I was so angered from it that my heart hurt listening to DeMario,’’ said Maureen Kielian of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates.
“They don't have time for addicts, for homeless people, which is just utterly disgusting. They're making a choice here of which lives to save. It's a stigma. It’s prejudice. Over a one-second spray up the nose, for Christ’s sake.’’
She has asked the county commission to reject Bradshaw’s budget request in September if he does not agree to carry naloxone.
In an interview after the meeting, McKinlay said she was disappointed with some of DeMario’s comments, in particular his questioning whether the county was doing enough to address the front end of the epidemic.
“I felt it was a little bit of a slight to the county, kind of a disregard for all of the work we've been trying to do to increase access to treatment with limited dollars,’’ said McKinlay, whose former aide lost a daughter to an overdose.
She pointed out how the county over the years created a successful sober home task force, hired a drug policy czar, opened an addiction stabilization unit at JFK Medical Center, paid for a syringe exchange program, launched a medication-assisted treatment program and made Narcan available, among other initiatives.
“I feel like we are constantly working to address this ever-changing epidemic in our community, and that was a low shot by him,’’ she said.
“It just really caught me off guard. I think it was along day and I think he felt he needed to go on the defense based on some comments from some of my colleagues.’’
Despite their differences, McKinlay said she admires and respects DeMario.
“I don’t view him as being an unempathetic person. He's a good man with a stellar career,’’ she said. “I was just frustrated with his response.’’
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm
Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020.View all posts by Joe Capozzi.