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Jacksonville’s Overdose Death Rate Remains On Par With Last Year’s Pandemic Spike

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At least 270 people have died from overdoses so far this year in Jacksonville; 271 people had died from an overdose at the same point last year

Dr. Raymond Pomm is the medical director for Project Save Lives, Jacksonville’s initiative to prevent drug overdose deaths. He told a City Council committee Thursday there aren’t enough treatment beds for all of the patients that opt into the program.

“COVID has continued to plague us with some difficulties relating to how many beds are available,” Pomm said. “So unfortunately we have to turn males away from residential services even though they want it because we just don’t have the capacity.” 

Pomm said he has requested that housing providers set aside temporary supportive housing until residential treatment beds open up for those who agree to treatment for substance use disorder, and he expects an answer within the month. 

Despite the continued high rate of overdose deaths this year, a new study shows Project Save Lives may have saved at least 20 people’s lives since it launched in 2017. 

The program offers peer support and treatment options to people after they are admitted into emergency rooms with a drug overdose. About half of the nearly 4,000 patients who have been offered the services accepted them. 

The University of Florida’s Center for Health Equity and Engagement Research studied the initiative’s effectiveness over the first three years of the program. Researcher Lori Bilello said they compared overdose rates between those who opted into the program and those who didn’t across a five-county region including Duval.  

“The overdose rate of those who participated in PSL (Project Save Lives) was statistically lower than those who did not participate in PSL,” Bilello told the committee Thursday. “So that was good news.” 

Her research shows about 2.6% of overdose patients who declined the Project Save Lives services later died from an overdose, compared to 1.5% of patients who opted into the program. 

Jacksonville is set to invest another $1.1 million in Project Save Lives in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The total cost of the program is split between the city, local hospitals and federal grants.

Contact Claire Heddles at cheddles@wjct.org, (904) 250 - 0926, or on Twitter at @claireheddles.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.