Ocala sees spike in opioid overdoses during COVID-19 pandemic

OCALA. Fla. — As we continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, Ocala fire officials say the opioid epidemic is still destroying lives.

After seeing a rise in overdoses over the past few months, officials said a new program is working to save lives and get people who are addicted the help they need.

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“We’ve seen almost a double in the number of overdoses since COVID-19, from February to the current day,” Capt. Jesse Blaire said in June. “We had 160 calls for service and that translated into 212 administration of Narcan.”

Last month, three people died as a result of an overdose. For that reason, Ocala fire personnel have launched a new program called the Ocala Recovery Project.

Funded by a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Marion County Hospital District, the program was designed to reduce opiate overdose deaths and dependency by using a medication-assisted treatment, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment and counseling.

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“Since August, we have had 55 people enroll in the program, not all are opiate calls,” Blaire said.

Officials said it starts after overdose patients are sent to a hospital.

Once they arrive, an overdose response team is there to navigate the detox and recovery system with the addict.

Experts then work to find the patient the best recovery plan whether they can afford it or not.

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“If you access this program you are not going to be turned away,” Blaire said.

Blaire said there’s a list of people and community organizations standing by ready to help people who are working to get clean.

Although this is separate from the Ocala Police Department’s amnesty program, police and fire officials are working together to help people overcome their addiction.

Myrt Price

Myrt Price, WFTV.com

Myrt Price joined the eyewitness news team as a general assignment reporter in October of 2012.