Opioid overdose calls spike for first time in 5 years

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives, another epidemic has a surge in record-breaking numbers that have not been seen in the last five years.

In 2016, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said it responded to 356 overdose calls with 180 of those calls related to opioids. Fast forward to 2020 and the number is up to 385 overdose calls with 243 of the calls being opioid-related.

“For us in the field, sadly, it’s an everyday call,” said Capt. Eric Prosswimmer, who works behind the scenes for JFRD. “It doesn’t matter your background, your upbringing, wherever you live. It doesn’t matter. It hits everybody.”

When asked whether COVID-19 is adding more stress to people who are already living with addiction, Prosswimmer said: “Absolutely. I think COVID is adding more stress to everybody. Period.”

A program at the forefront of fighting local opioid epidemic, Project Save Lives, began in 2017 as an initiative to track what drugs people are using, identify trends and to help people who want assistance ending their addiction.

It is providing some hope in a time of despair.

Since 2017, 1,281 people have consented to program services and seven people died from opioids. Despite the loss of seven lives overall, the program appears to be working. Of those served, 371 have taken traditional rehab services and 1,029 have taken peer services.

To give some perspective, JFRD reported 1,703 overdose calls as of March 13, 2019. This year, on March 13, 2020, there had been 2,372 calls.

Chart of JFRD overdose calls since 2015.

Glenn Justin Carter, 26, has been sober 11 months. He is working to get his GED and wants to start a business for tree removal.

“I spent my whole life since 8 to 17 on the streets, doing everything known to man, and I just had enough of it,” Carter said. “I had 10 friends OD.”

Carter has found refuge at Richard Preston’s sober living house. He, too, has recovered from addiction. Preston believes COVID-19, housing, isolation and a lack of in-person support meetings is triggering people struggling with addiction.

“Because of COVID, a lot of the places have reduced their beds almost as much as 50%,” said Preston, author and owner of New Life Jax Recovery Services sober living home.

During News4Jax’s ride-along with JFRD on Tuesday, there was a possible overdose call. It turned out that was not an overdose, however, there was one earlier in the day.

JFRD averages at least one a day if not more. It’s a reminder the addiction is still happening and it’s becoming a dangerous way for some to cope during the coronavirus pandemic.

Preston encourages friends and family of a person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs to check on them and encourage them to seek help.


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