We’ve been beating the drum on the issue for weeks now: The message that there is no graver threat to the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. By 2060, the sea is predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.
The editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald — with reporting help from WLRN Public Media — have joined hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. Our goal is to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.
To that end, we (Post Editorial writer Howard Goodman and me) went on WPTV-Channel 5‘s “To the Point” to discuss the threat of sea level rise with host Michael Williams.
As we’ve said previously, most South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.
The problem is, too few of us are convinced sea-level rise will personally harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mind-set because it already is. Lila Young, who has lived on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach for 30 years, said she’s seen the king tides progressively getting higher and flooding her neighborhood more often.
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Palm Beach County is fortunate to have a slightly higher elevation, which means the risks aren’t quite so acute here as for our neighbors to the south. Still, the high-priced real estate on the barrier islands is equally vulnerable, along with the low-lying mainland along much of West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive. As the sea level rises, the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee will drain more and more slowly after a major rainfall. And when significant hurricanes and floods hit farther south, we may see a sudden flood of people from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Are we ready? Are we taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously enough?
The tragic death last month of a Miami-Dade County fifth-grader after he somehow came in contact with the powerful drug, fentanyl, has many public school district officials concerned about the health and safety of students.
Count Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw among them.
While careful not to outright condone stocking the life-saving, anti-overdose drug Narcan (a brand name for Naloxone) on Palm Beach County school campuses to counteract potential opioid overdose situations, Shaw says it is worth discussion when considering the school district’s responsibility to protect kids on those campuses.
I’d have to agree. The overdose deaths stemming from the county’s opioid epidemic, chronicled exhaustively over the past year by The Palm Beach Post, has yet to show any signs of abating. It’s no stretch to assume that this crisis would, at some point, spill over into our school campuses.
So, it would make sense then for school nurses — the front line of defense on health emergencies — to be prepared.
For Shaw, the question had first come to mind because the opioid overdoses reminded him of an incident he had dealt with many years ago as a local school principal.
“A girl had come to school with a couple of vials of blood for a sort of show-and-tell,” he recounted. “It turned out that her mom or sister was training to be a phlebotomist, and had drawn some of the girl’s blood. The girl asked to take the vials to school to show her friends, and the mom or sister said sure.
“That got me to thinking of all things that kids could be exposed to on a school campus,” he continued, “and how much the use of opioids is spreading; not just in our community, but everywhere it seems.”
And that got Shaw wondering whether school nurses were properly trained to handle a potential overdose situation; and then whether Narcan should be at their disposal.
The 46-year veteran of Palm Beach County schools is obviously right to be concerned.
Because this plague is getting worse. Opioids, mainly fentanyl and heroin, have killed 2,664 people in Florida in the first six months of this year — an average of 14 people per day. At this rate, fatal overdoses will outpace last year’s count by 36 percent.
In Palm Beach County alone, overdoses spiked to 311 in the first five months of this year, 20 percent more than the first five months of 2016. And Palm Beach County’s 590 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were an all-time high for the county and nearly twice as many as in 2015, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of records from the medical examiner.
And then there’s the tragic death of 10-year-old Alton Banks. Authorities believe that Alton, who lived in Miami’s drug-ridden Overtown neighborhood, died on June 23 after coming into contact with fentanyl — but they are still trying to pin down how.
Alton died after a visit to the pool in Overtown. He began vomiting after coming home and was found unconscious that evening. Preliminary toxicology tests show he had fentanyl in his system.
“We don’t know where he got it. We don’t believe he got it at his home,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said last week. “It could be as simple as touching it. It could have been a towel at the pool.”
She added: “We just don’t know.”
The case has underscored how frighteningly prevalent fentanyl has become — and how potent it is. Exposure to just tiny amounts can be devastating.
Indeed, fentanyl is so powerful that some police departments have warned officers about even touching the drug. Last year, three police dogs in Broward County got sick after sniffing the drug during a federal raid, according to officials.
But where does the school district’s responsibility begin? “You’ve got the bus stop… the bus,” Shaw mused. “Then, of course, you have the campus.”
The answer, at first, may first appear simple, especially since everyone wants to protect schoolkids.
There are some, however, who worry that having Narcan on hand can also become a crutch and stop some people from taking personal responsibility. Those arguments echo those of past opponents of setting up needle exchanges and distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, who argued that such moves were just encouraging drug use and sex.
Point taken. But it falls flat for Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and head of general pediatrics at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Health care workers in hospitals and first responders in communities have had naloxone on hand for decades, but there is no evidence that having naloxone as an antidote has encouraged Americans to try street drugs and abuse prescription opioids,” Davis wrote in an email to NBC News last week. “Similarly, we would not expect teens to abuse opioids because naloxone is available in their schools.”
Naloxone, he wrote, must be “part of comprehensive drug use prevention programs in schools and communities, to try to reduce drug use among teens.”
“Making naloxone available in junior high and high schools is smart public health policy, given what is known about teens’ misuse of prescription opioid medicines and teens’ use of heroin in the U.S. today,” he added.
Having naloxone on hand “is just like putting a defibrillator on the gym wall for a heart attack, or having injections of epinephrine available for someone who can’t breathe because of a severe allergic reaction,” he wrote. “They are tools made available to save lives.”
Margaret Cellucci of the National Association of Schools Nurses (NASN) echoed those sentiments.
“The school nurse is often the first health professional who responds to an emergency in the school setting,” NASN said in its position statement.
“When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone has the potential to immediately restore breathing to a victim experiencing an opioid overdose,” it said.
To be sure, with 187 school district campuses, the financial cost of taking on this responsibility could be a factor as well. The demand fueled by opioid overdoses has also pushed up the price of Narcan for cities and counties around the country.
Earlier this month, Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding discussed the possibility of limiting the number of times Martin County Fire Rescue crews would use Narcan to revive a person who has overdosed on multiple occasions. Talking about the Fire Rescue budget, he said he’d gotten the idea from Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office representatives during their recent visit to Martin County to discuss the region’s opioid epidemic.
According to Fielding, Alan Johnson, assistant state attorney for Palm Beach County, told him “what we’ve had to come up with is, after so many, we do not administer Narcan again.”
But State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson said Fielding’s comments were not accurate and the agency has had no discussions about restricting the usage of Narcan.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who has been out front on the opioid epidemic, pushed back even harder.
“It’s the most horrific, disgusting proposal I have ever heard in my life,” she told the Post’s Julius Whigham. “It’s not our job to play God.”
Be that as it may, the issue of stocking Narcan is not likely to go away. Not for municipalities. Not for counties. And, as fall creeps ever closer, not for school districts.
Bronze statues are very often lightning rods for controversy.
It really doesn’t matter whether its a long-dead historical figure, cultural icon or game-changing athlete. There will often be some folks who don’t believe immortalizing a certain individual in bronze is a good idea.
How else, maybe, to explain why it took 70 years for the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers to erect a statue of the great Jackie Robinson at Dodger Stadium.
But sometimes they’re right. As is the case with the Miami marlins team owner Jeffrey Loria’s current plan to put a statue of former pitching ace JoseFernandez at Marlins Park.
Do you agree with Loria’s plan?
Fernandez was a young, charismatic (and dominating) pitcher that added a hometown charm as a Cuban-American. But his death at 24 in a boat crash was caused by unlawful behavior that also cost the lives of two other men. Two other men whose families would have added to their grief, a reminder that the man responsible for their loss is celebrated every day of the Major League Baseball season.
For many Post readers, that’s just too much. We published this letter from Jim Anderson of West Palm Beach on Wednesday:
The possibility that a statue may be erected in honor of Jose Fernandez, the Marlin’s late pitcher – who died at a young age – is absurd.
It has been determined that at the time of his death, he had drugs in his system, which may have caused a lack of judgment, resulting in a boating accident, resulting in his own death as well as that of two passengers.
Why would a person be honored for such an action?
Anderson was far from alone in raising that question. Roy Martinez of Jupiter wrote:
I think the idea of erecting a 9-foot statue of Jose Fernandez outside Marlins Park is a terrible idea. Does the fact that Fernandez had a 100-mph fastball overshadow his reckless behavior on the night he and his two friends died? How will those family members feel each time they see that statue?
Playing the game after he died, that was fine. The “16” patch on the Marlins uniforms, also fine. Turning his locker into a “mini-shrine”? Not 100 percent behind that idea.
Public relations being what it is, the statue will probably get built, a big ceremony will mark its unveiling and miniature versions will be available in the Marlins gift shop for a nominal cost.
And Rona Einhorn wrote to Post sports columnist Hal Habib:
I totally agree with your article today . I loved José . My husband and I attended the last game he pitched , the tickets to the game were a birthday present to me . We sat right over the Marlins dugout . What a game! He even said it was the best game he pitched. Then to wake up on Sunday morning and hear the news I just couldn’t believe it. I just don’t think that a large statue is the right way to honor him.
Thanks for the article.
After such sentiment is being espoused (maybe more so outside of Miami-Dade County) it will be interesting to see whether Loria shelves his planned monument — at least for now.
That means that the virus, which can cause debilitating birth defects like microcephaly, has been transmitted via mosquito. This is the potential nightmare scenario that scientists and public health officials have been warning about for months.
Yet, our federal lawmakers were too busy using the issue as a political football to get anything passed so that counties like ours can do proper mosquito control and scientists like those at Scripps Research Florida can work toward developing a vaccine.
We’re fortunate that Florida lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are all over this. The two have been leaders in the Florida delegation at pushing for more federal funds.
They were both in Palm Beach County Wednesday meeting with local officials and Scripps honchos, and renewing a push for more funds.
Even Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been blowing a little smoke with all his administration’s efforts to combat the spread of Zika. Turns out the governor cut funds to counties for mosquito control in his first term, questioning its value; and so far has distributed only about $1.2 million of the $26.1 million he promised to help fight Zika months ago.
I mean, school is about to start in Palm Beach County and some parents are growing concerned that the mosquito-borne virus has taken hold here. Yes, parents don’t tend to think too rationally sometimes when it comes to their kids. But who can blame them?
Especially, when the officials they trust to protect their interests are falling down on the job.