Jax opioid epidemic program looking to expand with new funding under proposed City budget

Jacksonville, FL — Tucked in the $1.2 billion City budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is funding that first responders believe is helping save lives.

Under the City spending plan, the "Opioid Epidemic Program" would get $240,000 next fiscal year. This would mean the pilot program that Jacksonville has been running shifting out of the test phase, and expanding.

“It shows signs of absolutely working, so now, they want to continue that,” says Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Kurt Wilson.

"Project Save Lives"- the name given to the program- started last November with a $1.4 million. The aim is to bring patients dealing with opioid problems to an emergency room that participates in the program and then connect them with a "recovery peer specialist" for community resources, treatment options, counseling, and more. The program is designed as a way to prevent patients from consistently falling back in to drug use, and there were residential treatment beds created under the project as well.

JFRD Division Chief David Castleman says they quickly realized that the residential treatment portion of the program- which was earmarked for the majority of the needed funding- was not what was most resonating with patients.

“Where they [program organizers] thought people were going to utilize residential treatment, actually the recovery peer specialists who work on an outpatient basis with these patients really became the heart and soul of the program,” Castleman says.

Shifting away from that freed up funding that allowed the pilot to continue past its initial sunset in May, all the way through the end of September. Now, Castleman says they’re seeking the funding to not only operate another year, but to expand where services are provided.

He tells WOKV that they are close to deals with two additional ERs, including Park West along the 103rd Street corridor of the Westside.

“That’s really located in ground zero of where the opioid crisis is,” he says.

They're also trying to expand to Memorial as well. Currently, the program runs at St. Vincent's. At the  time the City Council authorized expanding the program past the initial six months, they gave the green light to adding more locations as well, but this is the first time we're learning which ERs those may be.

He says the expansion lets them continue to increase public awareness, increase patient access, and more.

“We want to reduce deaths, we want to reduce recidivism- which is return visits- and decrease the dependence on these narcotics,” Castleman says.

He says his focus right now is getting the funding for the next fiscal year, but he hopes that after that they will start to see private support, potentially including in the hospitals and emergency departments where the program is operating.

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