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City-Funded Opioid Pilot Program Cheaper Than Expected 4 Months In

At Fire Station 1 on Beaver Street, emergency vehicles are stocked with Narcan, the drug used to reverse overdoses.
Shannon Greene
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Jacksonville Fire And Rescue Department Rescue Chief David Castleman said a city-funded opioid-intervention pilot program seems to be working. He presented data about the four-month-old program to a city council committee Monday morning.

The six-month intervention program, called “Project Save Lives” started in November, costing taxpayers about $1.4 million. Those who overdose and are transported to St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside or the recently-added St. Vincent’s Medical Center Southside are connected with peer recovery specialists who follow them through detox and treatment.

Castleman said of the 57 eligible patients, all but 10 accepted services. Two of them died in the hospital, and contact was lost with 15 patients.

“So that gave us a total of 32 participants that are currently engaged in the program,” Castleman said.

Roughly half are getting treatment while staying at River Region Human Services or Gateway Community Services treatment centers.

The other half are out-patient, a much higher number than had been expected.

“And it’s working,” Castleman said. “And the most significant takeaway from that is that the financial impact to the budget of the program has not been what we anticipated it would be.”

In a good way. He said the program looks to be cheaper than $1.4 million.

“It will be substantially less than what we anticipated we would spend,” he said.

At the same time, the number of rescue calls treated as overdoses and the administration of Narcan -- a drug that reverses an overdose -- are trending down. In late 2016 and mid 2017 those indicators were peaking with 407 Narcan doses given in November 2016 and 366 people treated by JFRD for overdosing in June 2017.

In February, JFRD administered 170 doses of Narcan and treated 224 patients for overdosing.

Castleman said he personally believes the pilot program in combination with a greater awareness of the opioid epidemic are factors contributing to the downtrend.

Councilman Jim Love said during Monday’s committee meeting he hopes the pilot program continues.

“I like the looks of the numbers here over the last four months,” he said. “I’d like to think our program or at least the advertising of the program and letting people know about the problem has helped.”

The program is set to end in mid-May, which is when the program’s success will be measured. Castleman said a reduction in overdose-related deaths and a reduction in recidivism, meaning repeat visits to the ER, will be considered in that analysis.

“It hasn’t been uncommon in the past for some of our units to go to the same patient multiple times in a 24-hour shift,” he said.

Castleman said because of the cost savings, be thinks there’s a potential for Council to immediately extend the pilot.

At the same time, he said he’s keeping a close eye on a new trend landing drug users in local ERs -- fentanyl-laced cocaine. Just 18 months ago he said the trend was fentanyl-laced heroin.

Fentanyl is a drug used for anesthesia, epidurals and chronic pain, such as those who have cancer, and its potency has been killing people.

“The scary part about this is we’re seeing it become more widespread when you start lacing cocaine with it,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford who spearheaded the opioid pilot program’s funding. “Also there are instances of it being introduced into counterfeit Xanax and some kids use Xanax and alcohol and that’s another scary thing.”

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.