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Heroin, Fentanyl Blamed For Overdose Uptick In Jacksonville

A Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department transport unit is often the first stop for who somebody who's overdosed.  

“They are going to be extremely cyanotic due to the lack of breathing,”said Jacksonville Rescue Division Chief David Castleman in response to what he's encountered treating overdoses. "They’re going to be blue. Unresponsive completely."

As more addicts on the First Coast are turning to heroin for their highs, overdoses have skyrocketed.


At Fire Station 1 off Liberty Street, Castleman told WJCT in April how his station has dealt with Jacksonville’s overdose uptick.

“Really in January we noticed there was a marked increase in our responses to not only overdoses, but specifically heroin overdoses,” he said.

When paramedics respond to overdoses, they’ll administer Narcan, a drug that reverses an overdose within minutes. And Jacksonville’s Fire and Rescue Department has used a lot of it this year.

Castleman said from 2011 to 2015 the rescue division averaged between 200 and 300 administrations of Narcan a year. But in the past year alone, it’s seen a 100 percent increase in the amount of Narcan that’s been administered.

But more importantly, he said, just in last four months, there’s been a 278 percent increase in Narcan administration for overdoses.

Before last month, Narcan was only available on 41 rescue vehicles. Now all the advanced life support engines carry it too. He says he’d like to expand that to every engine in the department.

But heroin isn’t actually the cause of many heroin-related deaths,Castleman said.

Tune in to WJCT’s “Community Thread: The Opioid Epidemic” simulcast on WJCT Public Television and 89.9 WJCT F-M Thursday night at 8 p.m.

The culprit is fentanyl.

“What’s interesting about fentanyl is that it’s 60 times more potent than heroin,” he said. “It’s a synthetic analgesic and these drug manufacturers and dealers they’re cutting synthetic fentanyl with heroin because it’s cheaper to manufacture and it’s much quicker to produce than heroin.”

In hospitals, Fentanyl is used for anesthesia, epidurals and chronic pain, like for people who have cancer. Castleman said, in Jacksonville, it’s what’s killing heroin users most often.

Credit Shannon Greene / WJCT News
All Jacksonville Advanced Life Support now carry the drug Narcan to reverse overdoses.

He said the medical examiner's office contacted his department to let them know most deaths by heroin overdose were actually caused by Fentanyl.

“We’ve had numerous cases that we’ve responded to where the individual was using drugs alone and we’ve found them dead with the needle still in their arm, that’s how quickly that that drug acts,” he said.  

He says most drug users don’t know what they’re getting isn’t pure.

“I think the message is while we’re not condoning drug use is that if you are an addict and you are using illegal drugs, you should never use drugs alone,” he said.

For more on the rise in heroin use in Jacksonville, tune in to WJCT’s “Community Thread: The Opioid Epidemic” simulcast on WJCT Public Television and 89.9 WJCT F-M Thursday night at 8 p.m.

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.