Drug overdoses on the rise in Jacksonville despite city’s efforts

The city’s investing $1.2 million this year to provide access to rehabilitation and other resources

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of lives lost in Jacksonville due to opioids and a mixture of other drugs continues to grow with officials telling a City Council committee Thursday that 234 people have died from overdoses this year.

That figure is a marked uptick from 2018 when there were 178 overdose deaths. The spike in opioid- and drug-related deaths comes despite the city’s $1.2 million investment in efforts to combat the problem.

“The numbers are up,” City Councilman Ron Salem said. “People are taking a mixture of drugs, which is also a concern. It’s deadly.”

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While many might have thought the opioid crisis was subsiding, figures provided at Thursday’s meeting by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department show that the past three months have been the busiest for calls about drug overdoses.

The city has taken proactive steps to address the problem since 2017. A big part of that is funding for what’s called Project Save Lives, a program that provides access to rehabilitation and other resources for those dealing with opioid addiction.

Since it began, 1,160 people have been eligible for the program. Of those, 661 people agreed to seek treatment through the program, 398 have completed the program and 211 are working through the program. Another five individuals have died.

The city is still expanding this program to emergency rooms at area hospitals.

“I definitely believe there is still a crisis,” Salem said. “We still need to be focused. This group will continue to meet, and we will continually try to save lives.”

Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting, the group plans to confront the vaping problem. Salem said he has met with physicians at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, who told him they have treated eight teens with medical problems related to vaping.

Though the teens have since recovered, Salem said those illnesses call attention to what’s happening in Jacksonville and nationwide. He said he’s working on legislation that would raise the minimum age to buy vaping and tobacco products to 21.

“I am hopeful that the state or the feds will put something in place and it’s uniform across the whole state,” Salem said. “It’s difficult to do something in Duval when Clay, Baker, Nassau and these other counties are not.”

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