Duval County has the highest per capita heroin and fentanyl related death rate of any county in Florida, but an opioid program is curbing the epidemic by coordinating service for patients.
At Thursday’s Jacksonville City Council committee on opioid addiction, Councilman Bill Gulliford was joined by other councilmembers, as well as representatives from local hospitals, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD), and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), to discuss Project Save Lives.
Gullifford lauded the success of the recovery care program, which he helped to secure $1.4 million in funding from the City Council in 2017.
“We’re saving lives. That’s what we decided we were going to do and we’re saving lives, obviously,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than that.”
The program, which the city is funding through September, has had nearly 200 participants. In that group there was a 71 percent decrease in overdose related incidents from 2017 to 2018, according to JFRD. Two-participants have died in 2018 while in the program.
Legislation has been introduced to provide an additional $100,000 to the program to cover rising costs of medication.
Project Save Lives partners with four emergency rooms to streamline services. The participating hospitals are: St. Vincent’s Riverside, St. Vincent’s Southside, Memorial Hospital and Park West. Project Save Lives is also expanding into three more hospitals, including Jacksonville’s Northside Community.
When overdose patients arrive at the participating hospitals, they’re paired with recovery peer specialists, who work with doctors and nurses to support them.
The peer specialists have themselves experienced addiction. That’s in part why the program has been successful, said JFRD Assistant Chief Information Services Mark Rowley.
“Here are people who’ve taken something so daunting and they are turning it around to save lives,” said Rowley.
The number of overdose emergency calls dropped from nearly 3,700 in 2017 to a little over 3,200 last year.