Goodman: Delray Beach: All American City and ‘relapse capital’ all at the same time

Suzanne Spencer, former executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Taskforce, and Delray Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman speak at a 2015 press conference about heroin overdoses and deaths in the city. (Photo by Hannah Winston)

Delray Beach this week became the first city in the state to win the All America City Award for a third time.

This same week, the city also gained national attention for being “the biggest relapse capital.”

In a lengthy front-page article on Wednesday, the New York Times documented the town’s unwanted status as one of the worst-hit centers of the opioid epidemic.

“Here, heroin overdoses long ago elbowed out car crashes and routine health issues as the most common medical emergencies,” writes reporter Lizette Alvarez. “Last year, Delray paramedics responded to 748 overdose calls; 65 ended in fatalities. In all, Palm Beach County dealt with 5,000 overdose calls.”

The story rightly emphasizes that, unlike other places reeling from rampant opioid addiction, “most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here.” They come from the Northeast and Midwest in search of drug treatment “in a town that has long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abusers.”

But as the Palm Beach Post has exhaustively reported, that treatment industry has been corrupted by bad actors who use insurance fraud to reap huge illicit profits and cynically thrust recovering addicts deeper into addiction.

“We have these people sending us their children to get healthy,” Dave Aronberg, the county’s state attorney, says in the Times, “and they are leaving in ambulances and body bags.”

Delray won the All American City Award for its efforts to advance early literacy. The honor is bestowed by the National Civic League, founded in 1894 by urban reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Law Olmstead and Louis Brandeis.

The city founded a board that worked with schools, parents and city leaders combat the summer slide, boost school attendance and prepare beginning students for school. The result, officials said: a 25 percent bump in grade-level reading from kindergarten through third grade in Delray schools.

Delray previously was named an All American City in 1993 and 2001.

No doubt, Delray leaders would rather their city be best known for its literacy-boosting virtues. But the Times story on the seaside town’s dangerous drug reality deserves a wide audience, especially up North. Maybe it will be read as a warning to people struggling with substance abuse: Think twice before coming down here for the help you might never receive.