In partnership with the city of Jacksonville, Beaches Recovery opened a "no-contact" site for people to obtain free doses of an opioid overdose-reversing drug.
Jacksonville emergency officials noticed a startling trend after business closures and social-distancing mandates went into place: They received 436 calls of suspected drug overdoses in March, the highest monthly total since they began tracking the data in 2015.
Nearly half of the calls were confirmed opioid overdoses, and that data point convinced Laura Viafora Ray, who oversees a city initiative to lower opioid overdose deaths, to look for new ways to distribute a drug that can be administered at home to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.
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Like countless other businesses that have found outside-the-box ways to serve people while maintaining social distance, Beaches Recovery, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Jacksonville Beach, has set up a "no-contact" pickup site where people can get a free dose of the drug, Narcan, from their parking lot.
In just two weeks, the facility distributed 17 doses of the Narcan nasal spray, which can temporarily reverse the effects of opioid addiction and buys time for someone to receive emergency medical treatment needed to save their life.
"We needed to do something completely new," Viafora Ray said. "We’re really pleased to have handed out 17 kits, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as social distancing is in place," she said.
Through its Safer and Healthy Neighborhoods program that began several years ago, the city has distributed 970 Narcan kits. The program, which is funded by a federal grant, focuses on providing residents access to the drug, which is delivered nasally, and educating them how to effectively use it. For instance, Viafora Ray said it’s crucial for people to still seek immediate emergency medical treatment after receiving the drug, as it only temporarily stops an overdose.
Beaches Recovery was already providing the drug to clients after they’re discharged from treatment, said Tracey Fisher, the facility’s assistant operations director. Now, they’re overseeing the city’s only no-contact distribution site for the drug.
The facility runs the pick-up site on Monday and Thursday. Staffers, equipped with masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes, sit at picnic tables, where they provide doses of the drug and information about using it. They also take information for a survey.
The drug is free, and the facility simply asks that people bring their own pen, Fisher said.
If people are unable to pick up the drug on Monday and Thursday, Fisher said they can schedule a pick-up by calling 904-400-9807.
Emergency officials have noticed several trends since the coronavirus outbreak disrupted normal life, including the spike in drug overdose calls. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department received 436 calls of a suspected overdose, and 338 of the calls were a confirmed overdose.
Of the confirmed overdose cases, 203 were opioid overdoses, which is one of the highest monthly totals since 2015. The number of opioid overdoses reached 203 last December and 208 in November 2016.
Viafora Ray said it’s difficult to know exactly what caused the increase in overdose cases. However, she said the coronavirus outbreak and efforts to slow its spread have been especially hard for those struggling with substance abuse.
"I’d say this has been particularly challenging in the field of substance abuse treatment," she said. "Isolation can be a risk factor for relapse, drug use and overdose."