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Local drug task force in Florida wants to be model for coalition building

March 8, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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In the same way that its SUD Talks event is taking on more of a national focus, the Delray Beach Drug Task Force in South Florida hopes that its community-building efforts will begin to serve as a national model for other localities facing seemingly insurmountable drug-related problems.

Michael Hendren, who took over as the task force's executive director at the start of the year, tells Addiction Professional that the group wants to share its experiences with other communities both within and outside Florida. Formed in the early 1990s, the task force now numbers more than 65 active participants representing a cross-section of interests, from treatment to business to law enforcement and the faith community.

The overall goal remains one of providing accurate information to the community about treatment and recovery. Hendren, who has worked in business development for addiction treatment centers, believes the task force's efforts have gone a long way toward reducing stigma in a city often billed a recovery capital (often derisively). Still, he says negative press about bad actors in South Florida's treatment and recovery communities remains an obstacle to progress.

“There are still going to be people strongly against [the community's presence],” says Hendren. “I hope we are turning a corner.”

Closed-group structure

The full task force meets once a month. Hendren says one key to success is that, unlike open groups that can be infiltrated by black-hat operators, the task force remains a closed organization committed to improving the treatment and recovery landscape in the city.

It should not be confused with the Palm Beach County task forces that have investigated treatment and recovery support practices countywide and are making legislative recommendations for reform, although Hendren says the Delray Beach task force expects to be involved in advocacy efforts at the state level this year.

Initiatives of the task force locally have resulted in accomplishments such as the Delray Beach Police Department becoming the state's second department to employ naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses in the community. Significant community attention is shifting to reaching individuals who have overdosed, facilitating access to treatment. Much of that follow-up activity is being coordinated by volunteers.

“We've found that people are willing to give resources, if you just ask,” says Hendren.

Another task force initiative is Project Trailblazer, which provides local employers that hire individuals in recovery with pre- and post-hiring support. Several business sectors in the city employ a substantial number of workers in recovery, as many individuals who go to South Florida to receive treatment or sober living services end up staying in the area to rebuild their lives.

As the task force grows, Hendren says it will be expanding its reach in areas such as being able to apply for direct grants. It also wants to share what it has learned with other interested communities, with the message that locally based activity can expand treatment and recovery support opportunities and improve neighborhoods at the same time.

“Delray Beach is not the only one with these issues,” says Hendren. “We can be a model for other communities, in how to take a bottom-up approach.”