JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As we continue to shed light on the overdose epidemic, we want to make sure you know that you can make a difference and save a life by arming yourself with an overdose-reversing medication.
In Duval, Clay and Nassau County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 651 people died by overdose in 2021 alone. The largest cause? Fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
While it is highly dangerous and often deadly, a prescription drug called Naloxone, or commonly Narcan, can reverse the effects of an overdose when used correctly and in a timely manner.
Video Courtesy of Seminole County Sheriff’s Office
It was a Saturday night in Seminole County, Florida.
Dispatcher: “911, what’s your emergency?”
Caller: “I have two people apparently drunk passed out in my parking lot.”
There were actually three people. They weren’t drunk. According to investigators, they were overdosing on illicit drugs laced with fentanyl.
Sheriff’s office body camera footage shows deputies responding to the triple overdose, finding two men and a woman on the verge of death.
“When I pulled into the gas station, it’s very well lit, you could tell right away that there was something different about this one,” said Lt. Dwain Kvalheim.
“You’re smacking at them, you’re shaking them, you’re moving them around and they’re not doing anything,” Deputy Caitlin Henry remembered.
Fortunately for the patients, deputies in Seminole County carry Narcan. It’s a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an overdose. Law enforcement used multiple doses on the subjects until fire rescue came with more. Several doses brought the trio back to life. Rescuers rushed all three to the hospital.
Believe it or not, just one pill can kill.
“We work really hard not to fill the community with scare tactics,” said Susan Pittman, the founder of the nonprofit Drug Free Duval. “We know they don’t work. We want to be honest. We want to get good data and information. But this really is a serious moment in time, where people that just are out to make money are making money on literally the lives of our local people and across the United States.”
Pittman said her organization has seen the alarming rising numbers of fentanyl deaths in the Northeast Florida area and her team is working hard on solutions.
Through a partnership with the city of Jacksonville and Jacksonville Fire Rescue, funded by a grant, they’re giving everyone, not just first responders, free access to the life-saving medication.
“Drug Free Duval offers the Narcan training twice a month without fail on the 15th and the 30th,” said Sally Finn, the group’s executive director. “Virtually, so anybody can go to our website, drugfreeduval.org and sign up and attend virtually and then we will make sure that they get their Narcan.”
Finn and Pittman offer step-by-step instructions during their twice-monthly training seminars.
“The first thing that we do is try to see you as the person even awake, you know,” Pittman explained. “If she doesn’t respond, I go on to step two. And step two is always call 911.”
“The person is likely laid down on their back, you’re going to take the Narcan. Remember, you have two doses in your kit,” Finn added. “And then you just take it and you put the nozzle up the person’s nostril, two fingers, right two fingers, and then your thumb plunges. And then one dose goes into one nostril.”
This is only part of their training, which is a process to keep overdose patients alive until rescue arrives.
They point out Narcan does not hurt someone if they’re not actually overdosing. If you misjudge and they’re suffering from another medical condition instead, the medication will not cause additional problems. You should still call 911 for anyone who is unconscious and consider doing chest compressions if you’re trained to do so.
Some people worry about calling police and rescue or intervening when someone is overdosing. Florida law protects you, the good Samaritan, in case anything happens.
“It’s the law that’s going to get you to go, ‘OK, I can do it. I can take this step, and I can do it’,” Pittman said.
The Good Samaritan 911 law means you can call police and fire if someone is overdosing and avoid arrest and prosecution, even if you’re involved with the drug use or criminal activity. That means even other drug users who have drugs or paraphernalia on them can call 911 without repercussion.
The Florida Naloxone law lets you have Narcan, a prescription, and use it on someone else, including a complete stranger. In the case someone dies, the Good Samaritan can not be held liable.
Does that make a difference?
“Oh, my goodness, according to our 3,500, pre- and post-tests that we’ve evaluated, just on this one project, it makes a huge difference in whether people will both carry the Narcan with them, like Sally and I both carry, we keep it in these blister packs, but we keep it like in our purse or our backpack,” Pittman said.
And they’ve found great success locally. Since Drug Free Duval started the Narcan program in 2019, they’ve gotten reports that 81 civilians have used their Narcan, meaning the project potentially saved 81 lives. Those are just the cases self-reported to them.
“So obviously, more people who have taken the training now have it on hand, have the confidence to use it, are using it and are saving a life,” Finn noted.
“And you know, the greatest thing of all that’s happening is de-stigmatization is starting to happen,” Pittman added.
Their mission continues.
To take the training with Drug Free Duval and JFRD, and get your packet of Narcan mailed to you, go to DrugFreeDuval.org and sign up. The free virtual classes are twice a month.
You can also CLICK HERE to sign up for Narcan Training.
You do NOT have to be a Duval County resident to take part.