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Northeast Florida Pilot Program Aims To Diminish Addiction Stigma

Frankie Leon
Flickr Creative Commons

In the first half of last year alone, 174 died of opioid overdoses in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties.

Stigma continues to deter some addicts from seeking help, but a new Northeast Florida partnership is seeking to change that.

Drug Free Duval’s new Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Taskforce hopes to improve addiction treatment outcomes. It’s made up of law enforcement, doctors, parents of addicts, and academics, like Jacksonville University’s Sharon Wilburn.

She said people won’t seek help for addiction if they don't feel comfortable.

“I think the most important thing is we start recognizing that we are human first and that we look at the totality of that person as opposed to calling the person, for example, an alcoholic, or a diabetic or a drug addict,” she said.

Wilburn is spearheading a program to train students to be “Peer Recovery Specialists,” who act as sympathetic navigators for patients.

Most navigators have experienced the process firsthand or know someone who has.

“The person does not necessarily need to be in recovery, although that’s obviously an advantage, but we’re trying to spread it out so everyone in the health care arena can better understand what the recovery process is all about,” she said.

Wilburn said the goal is to certify 60 students who graduate and go on to work in health care. The peer recovery specialist program is a partnership between JU and Lutheran Social Services, funded through a one-year federal grant.

If the class is successful, Wilburn hopes to make it a permanent part of JU’s curriculum.

Wilburn and the rest of the taskforce will meet again in late October.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.