JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Shortly after Governor Rick Scott declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in Florida, local firefighters said there are opioid 'epicenters' popping up around Jacksonville.
The epicenters are areas where drug overdoses are the most prevalent. Crews told First Coast News the epicenters are in Arlington, the Urban Core downtown, the Five Points area and on the Westside by Interstate 295 and 103rd Street. Many cases have also been reported near the intersection of Jammes Road, just across the street from the Park West ER in Jacksonville.
The amount of patients who have overdosed increased over the past year, which forced first responders to expand operations. When they opened in 2016, they had 26 overdose cases. This year, they’ve had 235 cases.
In 2016, there were about just over 1,700 overdose cases in the local hospitals around the First Coast. So far this year, there are nearly 1,600 already and counting. Jacksonville’s two busiest emergency rooms with overdose cases are at Memorial Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department responded to about 2,100 cases in 2015 and 3,400 cases in 2016.
Chuch Baldwin, a local firefighter and member of the Jacksonville Firefighters Union, said first responders are mentally drained from responding to the countless number of overdose cases. He said it's an emotional experience, especially when children are involved, which is often the case.
"They are in full respiratory arrest, you give them Narcan, take them to the hospital, then about midday you get another call, for the exact same call, to the exact same house, take them back to the ER," Baldwin said. "Or here on the Westside, you have five overdose calls going on at the same time."
As if to prove his point, an ambulance drove by First Coast News at that time during our interview. He confirmed through the fire department that it was a call for an overdose in that area.
"The BP here was one call, then right across the street we had another call with the heroin overdose with the mother and child in the car," Baldwin said. "The mother was near death, then the ER here is basically for all intensive purposes brand new, but when they opened that ER I don’t think they knew what they were going to get as far as their patient load."
"It’s not really about people chasing a high, it’s a physiological change; addiction," Baldwin said.
Why the sudden increase? Baldwin believes it happened when more restrictions were placed on pharmaceuticals.
"When they changed the law and shut down the pill mills, people who use those drugs do not go away, they go to the street," Baldwin said. "The problem is you are not dealing with pharmaceuticals anymore, you’re dealing with drugs off the street and then the big uptick is that they’ve added Fentanyl to it."
Fentanyl, he said, is even more lethal.
We asked if the drug Narcan, used by paramedics to revive overdose patients, can bring someone back from using Fentanyl. Baldwin said "sometimes... it's getting more and more difficult every day."
He said there are parts of the First Coast that remain untouched, for now.
"Eventually it will be there," Baldwin said. "It’s inevitable."
He said drug-addiction awareness through families, local charities and help centers is crucial because if the trend continues like it is now, it will only get worse.
Baldwin hopes spreading the word about the epidemic will do something to alleviate the crisis by at least education the public.
If you know someone with a drug addiction, you can refer them to this hotline help number:
SAMHSA's Toll-Free Treatment Referral Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).