The Big Business of South Florida's Overdose Crisis

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A man convulses in the street from a heroin overdose two blocks away from the Delray Beach Police Station. Nov. 18, 2016.
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The following essay is by WLRN’s Peter Haden. Click on the 'Listen' button above to hear the full report.

The man had just risen from the dead.

He’s in his mid-20’s. Sitting on a couch, pale as a ghost, sweaty, wide-eyed, disoriented — like he just woke up from a nightmare.

“What happened?” asks Delray Beach Police Department Sergeant Ed McCabe.

“I guess...I overdosed,” the man says.

The man’s roommates found him unconscious and he was turning blue, not breathing. He was overdosing on heroin. They pulled out two auto-injectors of naloxone — an overdose reversal drug — and jabbed them into his thigh.

He came to.

“How much did you use?” asks McCabe.

“A cap,” says the man.

The residents of the house are prepared for episodes like this. It’s a sober home. The man is a recovering heroin user from Ohio. And like thousands of others, he came to South Florida to get well.

It’s 6:30 on a Friday evening. McCabe has been on duty for an hour and a half, and this is his second overdose call tonight.

“The overdoses, they’re like a dime a dozen,” McCabe says.

Firefighters take the man to a local hospital, and McCabe gets back in his cruiser. It’s a white, late model Ford Interceptor SUV with those all-black steel wheels police departments favor: Strong, effective, no frills. It gets the job done without attracting attention.

The same might be said of McCabe. Athletic, alert, he’s 36-years-old and about 6 feet tall. The sergeant, he’s a cop’s cop. He grew up in New Jersey in a family of cops, and he’s been working these same neighborhoods in Delray since he joined the force 15 years ago. But about five years back, McCabe says, Delray started to change.

“The overdoses are more routine nowadays than anything else.” McCabe says.

“You just…” he pauses. “You just get used to it.”

Delray Beach is at the epicenter of a South Florida overdose epidemic estimated to have claimed more than 900 lives last year. Medical examiners are still counting.

Three things came together to create this South Florida overdose crisis. Click on the 'Listen' button above to hear what WLRN Reporter Peter Haden learned after a night out with Sergeant McCabe.