400 people died of drug overdoses in Duval last year. A new program is aiming to make treatment more accessible

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State health officials were joined by local addiction advocates in Jacksonville Tuesday to announce the expansion of a program to fight the opioid epidemic into Duval County. It’s called “Coordinated Opioid Recovery” or “CORE.”

Duval County is one of more than a dozen counties implementing this program, which was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis in August and was first started implemented in Palm Beach County.

According to the Florida Department of Health Interim health officer for Duval County, more than 400 people died of drug overdoses in the county last year.

It’s a problem that hits close to home for many families, including that of JFRD Chief Keith Powers.

“This disease is extremely personal to me,” he said. “I’ve lost two close family members to this disease, and I’ve got a nephew right now who’s addicted to this terrible drug,” Powers said.

Here’s how CORE will work, according to the state: when someone overdoses, EMS will bypass other hospitals to take them to specialty hospitals officials say will have certain training– similar to a trauma center, to stabilize the patient, start medication assisted treatment, and work with them to continue their care elsewhere.

“We have a lot of existing infrastructure. What was lacking was coordination. The breakdown of the silos and the navigation of the patient through the system and of course the EMS piece,” said Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, Florida Dept. of Health Deputy Secretary.

Dr. Scheppke said patients can refuse the treatment and people struggling with addiction can also reach out for help on their own.

Dr. Scheppke said the Department of Health is providing up to $1 million per county to start the program, and then it will be funded by the Department of Children and Families, and in the pilot program in Palm Beach, where he’s from, he said many patients also had their own insurance coverage.

The program will also include peer-to-peer advocates like Janice Gilpin to help encourage people to get treatment.

“When we, all of us, I’m just one representative, share that we are in recovery, they sit up a little straighter, they lean in a little closer, the whole countenance on their face changes because I do get it,” Gilpin said.

According to a press release from the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, the hospital where the pilot program was implemented treated more than 350 patients in its first few months. It also said medication-assisted treatment is provided within the first few hours of arrival to take away the cravings, minimize withdrawal symptoms and increase the probability the patient will comply with a longer-term treatment plan after discharge.

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I-TEAM and general assignment reporter