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Gulliford: Jacksonville Should Convene Heroin Task Force, Dedicate More Resources

syringe on sidewalk
Eric Molina via Flickr

Councilman Bill Gulliford wants to convene a community task force to combat the opioid epidemic in Jacksonville.

He made the announcement at a town hall Thursday night, where he said heroin and other opioid overdoes kill more than three times as many people as guns do in the city.

Also speaking at the town hall were several family members of overdose victims, as well as survivors of addiction, law enforcement officers, Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Medical Examiner Dr. Valerie Rao.

Rao said she’s been sick for more than a month but hasn’t been able to take off a single day because of the amount of overdose victims who fill the morgue.

“Help us,” she pleaded with the City Council members assembled.

Rao said 10 people had died of suspected overdoses in Jacksonville on Thursday alone. She listed off  some of their ages and circumstances surrounding their deaths. Their ages and occupations were wide ranging.

Lt. Mark Rowley with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue says the city spends $15,000 per month on the drug Narcan to treat overdose victims. Add to that the cost of treating and transporting victims, and the figure is expected to balloon to $4.5 this year alone, he said.  

Gulliford said he wants to expand the city’s focus on and resource allocation to the issue.

“You know, if we can have efforts with a Historic Commission, if we can have a Human Rights Commission, if we have full-time employees implementing that and so many others, I think this is much more significant and bigger,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think the city should necessarily lead the fight against heroin, but he does think it should have one of many seats at the table. Also at the table, he says, should be the Jax Chamber of Commerce, along with health care providers, faith leaders and law enforcement agencies.

He says he’ll be working on legislation over the next month or so, and he welcomes any input from the community on how to help solve the problem.

Updated: This story was updated with the information from Lt. Rowley at 11 a.m. on 3/10/17. 

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP