Last year the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responded to more than 3,700 overdose calls. About 2,400 of the calls happened between January and August, which is about a 70 percent increase from that span in 2015.
That’s why at the end of 2017 the city started funding an opioid pilot program dubbed “Project Save Lives,” at a cost of $1.4 million. Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said Tuesday he wants to expand the program through September 2019 and increase the number of participating hospitals from three to seven.
“If we go to seven in next year’s budget you can see the potential for expanding those numbers, people that we’re saving,” Gulliford said. “I’m positive about that.”
The program started with just one participating hospital, St. Vincent’s Riverside. Two more were added in September. Overdosers brought in Thursdays through Sundays who accept treatment are paired with a peer recovery specialist who walks them through recovery and enrures they're transported stragith from the ER to a treatment center.
Since the program's inception 164 people have been eligible for the program. Seven died before being offered services and 48 refused, leaving 109 accepting help. The program lost contact with about a quarter of the people who accepted help, but 82 are still actively engaged.
During Tuesday’s meeting updating the community about the city’s opioid epidemic, several attendees had concerns about the treatment programs prescribing opioids like Buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. Other attendees said there’s now an issue with treatment centers having waiting lists.
Gulliford said as the program continues he’d like to look into expanding treatments and addressing the at-capacity treatment centers, but said the state legislature needs to chip in.
“You can’t look at the local jurisdictions to come up for the funding necessary to really address this,” he said. “We’re just chipping at it.”
But Gulliford said the program is ultimately keeping people alive, and he sees that as a success. Although three patients actively engaged in the city program relapsed, zero have died.
So far in 2018, JFRD has responded to 1,997 overdose calls, that’s down 20 percent from the same span last year, but still up about 50 percent since 2015.
Based on those high response numbers, Jacksonville has been approved for a new Florida Department of Health grant, called Help Emergency Responders Obtain Support funding.
“Last year JFRD responded to 3,772 overdoses. That’s ranked No. 4 in the state,” said JFRD Assistant Chief of Information Services Mark Rowley. “We’ve tentatively been notified that we will be receiving a portion of that grant money and we hope to receive it here in the next month.”
Rescue Chief David Castleman said last year 40 percent of his $500,000 pharmaceutical budget was spent on Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses. That’s as the price of the drug has increased 150 percent in three years, Rowley said.
JFRD hasn’t received word on how much funding it’ll get, but Castleman said the grant will be a huge help for the costly calls. He’s hopes the department will get somewhere around $500,000.