Author: Shernide Delva
The first of four opioid workshops took place May 1st in West Palm Beach, Florida. Florida Governor Rick Scott initiated the workshops as a way of addressing the opioid epidemic, yet he was not in attendance for the meeting. Instead, 22 public figures attended the workshop ranging from Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinley.
Protesters stood outside of the West Palm Beach Police Department Community Room. Some held signs; others held photos of loved ones who had passed. Many wore shirts with the words “Fed Up!!” printed on the front.
A live broadcast of the discussion streamed via the Palm Beach Post Investigations Facebook page. Christine Stapleton, an investigative reporter for the Palm Beach Post, reported live from the event. Around 1:30 PM, Stapleton walked along the front of the building conversing with protesters prior to streaming the opioid workshop which began at 3:00 PM.
Protesters marched holding signs and chatting amongst each other. Some were parents of children who had died from overdoses. Others were Registered Nurses who witness overdose victims on a regular basis. People gathered from all walks of life with one thing in common: they were all fed up with the response regarding the opioid epidemic.
Unfortunately, most felt the workshop they were attending was not the best plan of action regarding the opioid epidemic. Some deemed the workshop pointless. However, it was a much-needed conversation and an opportunity for the community to be heard by public officials.
The timeframe of the meeting was set at only 90 minutes which received massive criticism due to the complexities of the opioid epidemic. Furthermore, Governor Rick Scott was not in attendance which only further lowered the morale of some in attendance.
Protesters Speak Out: Desperate for Action
Outside of the facility, hundreds of purple strips of cloth hung on clotheslines. Behind the strips of cloth is Gaynelle Gozland, a parent advocate whose son, at just 13 years old, became addicted to opioids. She explains to Stapleton how she wishes she had known what she does now about prescription painkillers.
At just 13 years old, Gozland’s son was prescribed a 5-day opioid prescription for a broken arm. Not long after, her son spent his 14th birthday in rehab, addicted to opioids.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she says in the live stream. “My son, who is 19 now, still says to me ‘thank you for what you did because if you hadn’t, I’d be dead or strung out on heroin.”
As for the hanging strips of purple cloth, they are memorial banners. Gozland says the strips represent those who have passed away due to overdoses. Gozland’s mother, who passed away from alcoholism, influenced the idea for the purple strips of cloth. Her mother used to run a clothesline art show stringing up kids art.
“So, I’m stringing up memorial banners, and the banners are basically prayer flags so that as the wind blows, the memory of these human beings are carried on the wind,” she says.
Inside the Opioid Crisis Workshop
At about 3:00 PM, Stapleton walks us into the opioid workshop in which public figures sit in the middle of the room.
Several called on Governor Rick Scott to declare the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis. They believe this would speed up funding. Why is the Zika virus considered a public health crisis, yet not heroin? However, Attorney General Dr. Celeste Philip says the declaration does not always result in faster funding.
“What happened in [(sic) Zika — the declaration occurred in February, and funding was not made available until several months later when we saw that the delay in federal funding was longer than we expected,” says Philip.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinley summed up the tone of the room:
“I’m angry today,” says McKinley. “We just did this in January in Tallahassee. We held this press conference with the Attorney General. We had this conversation. We laid out a plan of what was needed. Nothing was done.”
“If we were able to move that quickly on (the Zika) issue, why can’t we move more quickly on this (heroin) issue?’’ she asked.
The crowd erupts in applause.
Overall, one thing was clear from the workshop: talk is cheap. People need action. These opioid workshops do raise awareness and grant a voice to the community. However, the plans discussed need implementation. Not much will happen without action.
“I’m (expletive) tired of it. I’m tired of losing my friends,’’ Jordan Meyers, a recovering addict from Boca Raton, sums up in the workshop.
The remaining workshops are to be held Tuesday and in Manatee and Orange Counties and Wednesday in Duval County.
What do you think of Rick Scott’s opioid workshops? Do you feel they are making a difference? The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that should be taken just as seriously as any other disease. If you are currently struggling with substance abuse, reach out. We can get you on the right track. You are now alone in this fight. Call now.