Jacksonville’s first pilot program aimed at reducing the city’s opioid overdose deaths should be operational by October.
Through early intervention and wrap-around services, the program aims to reduce overdoses, deaths and recidivism, according to Dr. Raymond Pomm, medical director at Gateway Community Services and River Region Human Services.
It is the only program of its kind in Florida — and those involved in its creation gleaned ideas from working models throughout the country.
St. Vincent’s Riverside partnered with Gateway and River Region to put the plan in place.
“Part of our mission is caring for the poor and the vulnerable, and people who have opioid addiction are definitely part of the vulnerable population,” said Dr. Huson Gilberstadt, St. Vincent’s HealthCare’s chief clinical officer and interim president of St. Vincent’s Riverside. “We are there to take care of the people who need us.”
After the program launches, those who overdose within St. Vincent’s coverage area will be offered the opportunity to join the program. Often, opioid-dependent individuals refuse treatment. The new pilot addresses that problem. A peer recovery specialist will contact the addict or the addict’s family to encourage treatment.
“Before this program, we had nothing,” Gilberstadt said. “When we discharge these patients, they are back on the streets within hours. … If we can save one person who would have gone back on the street and overdose and die, then we’ve done our job.”
Hopefully, with the program, returning to the streets won’t be an option.
After the patient is stabilized in the emergency room, the peer recovery specialist will discuss available treatment options: detox and possibly medicine-assisted treatment, residential inpatient treatment and outpatient services.
The specialist will drive them, if needed, to the available facility. The point is to avoid allowing the drug user the chance to relapse, Pomm said.
Right now, the program includes only patients within St. Vincent’s area — those it is capable of helping. Patients who overdose closer to Baptist Medical Center, UF Health or Memorial will still be taken to those hospitals.
After the six-month pilot ends, it can then be implemented across all of Jacksonville’s emergency rooms. According to Pomm, that implementation would not happen all at once.
There won’t be a shortage of patients.
In Florida, heroin deaths escalated to 779 in 2015, a 74 percent increase from the year before and a 2,400 percent increase from 2010. Locally, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue responded to 3,114 overdose victims last year — and is now transferring one overdose victim every two hours.
The need hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The City of Jacksonville voted in July to spend $1.5 million on the opioid pilot program, a decision made at the urging of City Councilman Bill Gulliford.
Gulliford has been responsible for organizing numerous Town Hall-style meetings to discuss the Jacksonville’s opioid epidemic.
“We have a long way to go to catch up with the way this epidemic is quadrupling each year,” Gilberstadt said. “There is not a walk of life that hasn’t been impacted. There’s almost someone in every family that has been impacted by the opioid crisis. … It will be nice to see if we can make an impact on some lives — and move in the right direction.”
Both Pomm and Gilberstadt say the pilot has turned all eyes toward Jacksonville. Other Florida cities want to know if the model works — and other hospitals within the Ascension network are already reaching out to Gilberstadt.
“We are definitely going to have an impact on lives,” he said.