Local programs aim to reduce opioid overdoses

Local law enforcement are now carrying Narcan to help lessen the deaths of opioid overdoses. Photo by Kira’Fika Jackson

Since the 1990s, the overuse of opioids has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Due to the high volume of deaths, the opioid crisis has been likened to a plague.

Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. They areprescried to patients to provide pain relief. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids can range from a number of drugs.

Opioids can come in the form of many drugs. One of the most prescribed drugs is hydrocodone, which is typically used for pain after surgeries. Fentanyl, oxycodone and tramadol are other prescribed drugs that are considered synthetic opioids.

You might think Tallahassee doesn’t suffer much from the opioid epidemic because the evidence of it isn’t as ubiquitous in the college town. But did you know that because Tallahassee is one of the largest northernmost cities in Florida, the rates of drug and alcohol abuse are proven to be higher than other places in Florida?

According to Niznik Behavioral Health, between 2014 and 2016, there were more than 60 drug overdoses for every 100,000 residents in Leon County.

The Florida Medical Examiners reported that in 2015 and 2016, there was a 60.8 percent increase in prescription overdose deaths in Tallahassee. Oxycodone was reported to be the leading cause of 23 overdose deaths in 2016 while morphine was involved in 20 overdose deaths in 2016.

One report from Leon County said that opioid addiction is the cause behind 64 percent of child neglect and abuse related deaths in Tallahassee and over 65 percent of juveniles involved in the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice struggle with substance abuse.

As you can see, the opioid crisis is far from over. That’s why organizations and rehabilitation centers in Leon County are working nonstop to fight the epidemic by offering alternative routes for those who suffer from opioid addiction. They are here to solve it.

Florida’s State Opioid Response project (SOR) is operated by the Florida Department of Children and Families in Tallahassee and strives to put an end to substance abuse, more specifically opioid abuse.

SOR project director Lorraine Austin did not respond to interview requests, but according to their website, the project is to help address the opioid crisis and to reduce the rates of opioid related deaths by offering an array of research- and evidence-based prevention tactics to victims.

SOR is administered through the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) and is also funded by Substance Abuse of Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Through funding, SOR is able to expand the Departments Overdose Prevention program, which is intended to help distribute the use of a new drug medically known as naloxone. This life-saving drug reverses opioid overdoses and blocks the effects of opioid. It is medically approved for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence.

The Florida Substance Abuse Department employee Kaitlin Francois tried to address what’s being done.

“I’m not the one with all of the information and there’s only so much I can tell you, but I do know the services they offer is very beneficial. The services they offer makes it more accessible for those who are battling addiction that don’t have insurance and for those who do have insurance, but their insurance just won’t cover everything,” she said.

Some services they offer include recovery support services and medicated-assisted treatment.

The non-profit center Avalon Treatment Centers is another facility that’s working to find new ways to put an end to the local opioid crisis.

If you need any more evidence about the company’s strong desire to solve the opioid epidemic,  founder Joanna Johnson is a 40 year and counting recovering addict.

The company offers three programs for the different stages of opioid abuse: mild substance abuse, moderate to late substance abuse, and aftercare, which is for those who have completed outpatient or inpatient treatment.

As an expansion to their fight to solve opioid addiction, they are now offering bio-psychosocial evaluations where patients are assessed by professional physicians to determine psychological, biological and social factors that may contribute to their addiction problems.

“We do outpatient drug and alcohol treatment here in Tallahassee. We also have offices in Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson and Gadsden (counties). But those other offices are primarily for department of corrections. Our process normally begins with an evaluation before any treatment is given because we wanna know what is going on to find out what the problem is,” Avalon Treatment Center Intake Coordinator Shawn Prysor said.

Leon County Sheriff’s Deputy Teems  says that they are normally the ones who have first-hand contact with those who have abused opioids and those who may have overdosed. They now have to carry this new drug while on the clock.

“Law enforcement plays a major role in reducing the abuse of opioids. We usually have first-hand contact with those who have abused them and may have overdosed, so we have begun to carry Narcan to administer in those situations,” the deputy said.

With the nonstop growing rate of opioid use, doctors are continuing to find alternatives to end the overuse of painkillers. Organizations and projects like the ones listed above are taking the next steps to help contribute by slowly solving and saving each victim’s life, one by one.