DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Palm Beach County became ground zero for the opioid crisis, forcing first responders, governments and medical providers to find innovative ways to attack the problem.
And, there’s no letting up, because overdoses are on the rise again.
But the City of Delray Beach and its police department have a unique weapon fighting the opioid crisis.
“So I’ve been busy trying to make phone calls to his family, and his treatment program back home,” said Ariana Ciancio, describing the start to her day.
Ciancio’s job often brings her into the streets, but she also tracks down leads in the office.
“So we get the phone numbers of people who may have overdosed in the city,” Ciancio explained. “We go see them in the streets, we offer them treatment,” or other kinds of help.
A trained mental health and drug counselor, Ciancio’s official title is “Service Population Advocate.” She reaches out to those battling substance abuse, facing homelessness or dealing with mental illness.
“You can’t help someone who’s not ready to get help, but you can open all those doors,” said Ciancio.
Two and a half years ago, at the height of the opioid crisis, Delray Beach found itself overwhelmed with substance abusers, overdoses, and fly-by-night treatment centers.
The city needed help, and the police department hired Ciancio.
“I don’t see people kicked out of recovery residences like I used to when I first started, with suitcases walking up and down the street,” said Ciancio.
CBS12 News took care of shooting video of Ciancio since so much of her work depends on gaining the confidence of people she’s trying to help.
“It’s the trust, and I never go away,” said Ciancio. “So if something happens in a year, they know they can pick up the phone and call me, and say, ‘Hey, listen, something happened, I hit a bump in the road.’”
Palm Beach County’s State Attorney Dave Aronberg specifically mentioned Ciancio’s work to CBS12 News, crediting her efforts in Delray, as one reason opioid overdoses in the county had dropped in recent years.
But today, those numbers are up again.
On the Treasure Coast, CBS12 News recently reported the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl is fueling an outbreak of overdoses and deaths.
Ciancio says it’s happening in Palm Beach County too.
“They’re up over the whole county,” said Ciancio. “Everyone’s up. It’s the fentanyl.”
Not up in large numbers, said Ciancio, but up nonetheless.
“We’ve had instances recently where somebody thought that they were buying a Xanax, which is benzodiazepine, that really was fentanyl,” said Ciancio. “And they didn’t realize it.”
Another reason fentanyl is so dangerous. Almost no one goes out looking for fentanyl, because it’s so powerful and potentially deadly.
But experts say it’s being mixed into all sorts of other drugs — heroin, cocaine, even substances that look like marijuana. People are using it, but have no idea what they’re really taking.