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Florida spring break goers given Fentanyl warning from concerned street teams

In the days after a group of West Point cadets on spring break were sickened by fentanyl-laced cocaine at a South Florida house party, community activists sprang into action.

They blitzed beaches, warned spring breakers of a surge in crime” target=”_blank”>recreational< health services for The Special Purpose Outreach Team, a local mobile medical program. “But the spring breakers have been great. Some say, ‘I don’t do drugs, but my buddy sometimes does something stupid.’ They are happy to get Narcan.”

Smith’s team pulls up to Fort Lauderdale beach in a brightly colored mobile clinic van. They walk the sidewalks that run parallel to the beach, across the main drag from the bustling oceanfront clubs and restaurants.

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“Have you heard of Narcan?” Huston Ochoa, a clinical counselor for The SPOT, asked Tristan Gentles on a recent afternoon as music blared from the Elbo Room, a bar at the heart of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Gentles, who worked as a bartender and bouncer in New York City before moving to Fort Lauderdale, said he appreciates their efforts.

“There’s only so much you can do when you see someone on the floor,” he said, adding that he had witnessed numerous overdoses during his days in New York.

Fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, which can be 50 to 100 times more personal-freedoms” target=”_blank”>potent< agencies from law enforcement to social service organizations and hospitals met via Zoom to devise a plan to keep spring breakers safe.

Groups such as The SPOT and the South Florida Wellness Network, which partner with the United Way of Broward County, agreed to hit the beaches to talk with people about the dangers associated with fentanyl-laced drugs. They also talked to restaurant and bar owners who could distribute Narcan if “someone went down,” Scharf said.

The groups have so far distributed more than 2,000 doses of Narcan supplied by state grants. The SPOT volunteers handed out packages with two doses of the nasal spray plus instructions.

“It was kind of a blitz operation to get out there as quickly as possible, and to get as much information and Narcan out on the streets,” Scharf said.

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The volunteer groups and sheriff’s office don’t have figures on how many of the distributed doses were actually used but believe the program has succeeded in raising awareness.

The region isn’t yet out of the spring break period, which runs until mid-April, but Scharf said organizers have been heartened to see a couple of weekends pass without any overdoses that resulted in emergency calls.

“We had zero, which is like the first time in forever that we had none,” Scharf said.

“We had a terrible situation,” with overdoses of the cadets and others, and turned it into “an opportunity to really beef up our education and prevention efforts by flooding the beaches and the streets,” Scharf said.

Smith, of The SPOT, said spring breakers were “grateful and appreciative” and his group now has to plan how to “keep the momentum going.”

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To that end, the street teams plan to continue working events that bring in large crowds, such as this weekend’s sold out Tortuga Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

“It’s about saving lives,” said Emy Martinez, who manages a safe syringe program for The SPOT. “It’s all about saving one life at a time.”

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