JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Aug. 31 is Overdose Awareness Day, and News4JAX is teaming up with local organizations hoping to save lives. The main culprit behind the surge in overdose cases we’re seeing in our area is fentanyl.
As Director of Pharmacy at Orange Park Hospital, Dr. Jodie Graves works to save lives every day. But one life that couldn’t be saved was that of her adult stepdaughter. News4JAX is only identifying her by her first name, Angela. After a years-long battle with addiction, Angela (pictured below with Graves) overdosed and died last year.
“It didn’t come unexpected,” Graves said. “It was a death pill. One in 10 pills out there is what you call a death pill.”
Graves said Angela’s struggle took a toll on the entire family, including her father. Angela was a loving mother, sister and daughter. But behind the scenes, her drug abuse was tearing the family apart. As Graves explained, things came to a head when she, herself, was in the hospital after an accident.
“I can’t get up out of the bed, and I receive a phone call from this one daughter,” Graves recalled.
From there, she remembers Angela saying to her on the phone: “I got a headache, would you bring me some of your pain pills?”
“One side of my body was crushed, and I can’t get up,” Graves said. “That was the point that I truly knew that it was really beyond redemption.”
The numbers show Graves’ family isn’t alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 538 drug overdose deaths were counted in Duval County in 2021. That is compared to 521 counted in 2020. Last month alone, records show Jacksonville Fire Rescue received 391 overdose dispatches.
Jacksonville City Councilman Ron Salem and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers sit on a task force that aims to fight the overdose epidemic. Salem is a pharmacist and has warned about the rise in overdose cases for years.
“It continues to get worse,” Salem said. “We’ve had a 58% increase in the number of calls through our fire department since 2018.”
Powers said the areas of town where first responders are seeing the most calls include Riverside, Springfield, the 103rd Street corridor around I-295, and the Regency area.
“We have multiple cases where we’ve gone three times in one 24-hour period to the same person that had overdosed,” Powers said. “One of the most heartbreaking things we see as first responders is when you have to turn around and tell a mother or father, grandmother, or grandfather that their loved one just passed away.”
Even more frightening, Powers said, is that first responders have just a few minutes to save your life if you’re overdosing.
He said it takes just 4 to 6 minutes before your brain cells begin to die. That’s why Salem said it’s a good idea for people to know how to use nasal Narcan. With 4 to 6 minutes to act, it can save a life. Salem said it’s important to know that if a person is not overdosing, giving them Narcan will not harm them.
“If there’s any doubt if someone is overdosed or not, use this product,” Salem said. “You will not harm the patient.”
Above all, the men stress this kind of addiction does not discriminate. They say it happens to people of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.
“I’m a big proponent of, do NOT buy anything on the street,” Salem said. “You never know what you’re getting. It can be laced with fentanyl, and it only takes one time.”
As her family still grieves, Dr. Graves also thinks back to the good memories. What she remembers most about her stepdaughter
“A bright mind, strong personality,” Graves said. “She loved her children, and that was the one thing. She was a very loving mom.”
Graves said Angela lit up her father’s life as a child. She said the grief has been especially hard for him.
“He often asks, ‘Could I have done anything differently?’” Graves said. “And I tell him, ‘No. You did more, in fact, some of the decisions you made, you should not have made.’”
Graves’ message to other families going through this with a loved one: Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, even if it feels wrong in that moment.
Salem and Powers also told News4JAX that help could be on the way. They said the state will receive $85 million over the next 18 years. They said the money is through settlements from manufacturers and drug wholesalers. Salem said during the first year, roughly $8 million or $9 million will be received. Both men are on a task force to determine how that money can best be used. The hope is for that money to start coming in this fall.
The city offers training in the administration of Narcan. The number to call is 904-255-7730, or click here.