JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville was not immune to the opioid epidemic as overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t care what neighborhood, I don’t care what financial background, education, it doesn’t discriminate one bit,” said Jacksonville Fire And Rescue Department spokesperson Eric Prosswimmer. “It’s a daily event. Some stations they say that’s all they go on.”
Prosswimmer said overdoses were once considered a “big call” because they did not happen every day, but that’s no longer the case. Prosswimmer said first responders prepare for almost all calls to be overdoses.
Data from JFRD shows opioid-related overdoses rose from 16 incidents in January 2015 to 336 in May 2021. That’s a 2,000% increase.
The number of times Naloxone or Narcan was used in January 2015 was 72. In May of this year, JFRD used the emergency prescription drugs to treat overdoses 513 times.
“Statistics are now showing our dosage of Narcan has had to go up, whether it be people’s immunity, or the strength of the opioid taken,” Prosswimmer said.
A telling sign that the problem is still growing.
“The numbers we are releasing for this year are going to be lower than they actually are, for multiple reasons. With the deaths, each person has to go to the [medical examiner] for an autopsy, and they have to send out toxicology reports which takes a minimum of eight weeks,” Prosswimmer said.
Prosswimmer said he’s not sure what can be done to stop the loss of life.
The nation was already struggling with its worst overdose epidemic but clearly “COVID has greatly exacerbated the crisis,” said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends.
Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get, experts said.
Overdoses in Northeast Florida also set a new record last year: 556 drug-related deaths combined in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said two people were found dead of overdoses Wednesday in a room at the InTown Suites on St. Johns Bluff Road.