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Overdose calls up 40% during COVID-19 pandemic; treatment centers seeing relapses in long-time sober patients

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is averaging 15 calls a day for overdoses, which is 40 percent higher than the same time last year.

As the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid crisis is still damaging First Coast communities.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is averaging 15 calls a day for overdoses, which is 40 percent higher than the same time last year.

On Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council's committee on fighting the opioid epidemic meets for an update on how to fight the epidemic. One way local groups are stepping up to save lives is through new training programs.

Drug Free Duval is doing free virtual training on how to use Narcan nasal spray, which is the medication naloxone and can reverse the effects of an overdose while you wait for paramedics. They'll even deliver the Narcan to you.

"Inside this kit: two Narcan doses," explained Executive Director Sally Finn, holding up a box. "It's great to be prepared, having the knowledge, and be able to make a difference in someone's life."

To do the training email Finn at sally@drugfreeduval.org.

JFRD administered Narcan more than 500 times last month, which comes out to be more than 16 times a day.

Chris Blauvelt is almost nine years into his recovery and now works at The Augustine Recovery Center. 

"A lot of relapses," he said. "We're seeing a lot of people in early sobriety having a much harder time, we're seeing some people in long-term sobriety relapsing."

With many drug and alcohol meetings cut or limiting the number of people, virtual recovery can be the only option. Blauvelt encourages people in recovery to go to more meetings if they can, reach out to others, and stay connected.

 "One or two 12-step meetings a week? Maybe you should do more," he said. "The success of our sobriety depends on it, depends on that connection."

Virtual recovery meetings are not working for everyone. Blauvelt says newcomers in recovery generally have a harder time because it can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there.

"I think it's great if you've been in recovery for a long time," Blauvelt said. "And by a long time I mean five to ten years. You have an established network of peers that are in recovery, you have meetings that you're used to, you have a mentor."

But Kimberly Kelly, who is in recovery for alcoholism at Gateway Community Services, has completely embraced virtual recovery. She started treatment at Gateway eight months ago and entered out-patient housing about a month before the pandemic hit.

"In my 12-step program I've actually been in Zoom meetings where there are people from Ireland, Germany," she listed.

Kelly believes she's doing better because she knows she can reach out to anyone at any time.

"Just all the social forums that are possible, it's just really kept me on the path to recovery," she said. "Being stuck at home sometimes, just knowing that I have these forms to use to contact people. The thing is you're always able to call that counselor and then do a one-on-one Zoom with the counselor."

The Jacksonville city council's special committee on the opioid epidemic, vaping and mental health resources is having a virtual meeting Thursday at 2 p.m. See the agenda here.

You can also pick up Narcan at Beaches Recovery in Jacksonville Beach.

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