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Jacksonville opioid treatment pilot program showing encouraging results early on

The Jacksonville City Council ‘Special Committee on Opioid Epidemic’ discussed a couple of hot-button issues Tuesday, as the city continues to grapple with the overdose crisis.

“We’re at an overdose [death] a day, 400 a year,” said one committee member.

One subject at hand: the city lawsuit against opioid companies, which will be handled by international class-action trial lawyers Scott and Scott.

The other subject: Jacksonville’s nascent opioid treatment program.

Scott and Scott have experience in settlements ranging from $20 to $30 million — an important consideration as Jacksonville wrestles with the impact of hard and soft costs from the overdose crisis.

A representative from Jacksonville’s office of general counsel asserted that the firm is drafting a complaint, which will be filed by the end of January.

Settlement money will, theoretically, go into revenues needed for such unavoidable costs as emergency transport, and perhaps an expansion of the city’s pilot opioid treatment program.

Dr. Raymond Pomm, director of the city’s opioid treatment program, described the program as a “pilot … an experiment.”

“Expecting a broad impact of city numbers is unrealistic,” Pomm said, saying that the goal of the six-month, $1.5 million pilot is a simple “reduction” in overdoses, recidivism, and death.

Pomm noted that the pilot, which runs four days a week (Thursday through Monday, both as a “control group” to test program effectiveness, and as a budgetary measure), is more successful than he imagined, saying that while a couple of prospective entrants refused services, 30 of 37 eligible patients (85 percent) are receiving services.

This is especially notable in light of the preference of some patients to leave as soon as their drugs wear off, in an attempt to score another fix.

“I had no idea how effective our recovery peer specialists would be,” Pomm said, noting that 10 (31 percent) are receiving residential treatment.

“Of all those engaged in services, only one was re-admitted for an overdose,” Pomm said. “None died.”

Other hospitals — St. Vincent’s Southside and Clay — will be added to St. Vincent’s Riverside, to increase the patient pool.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the major issue, with the diluted analogue potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and potentially creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

All 37 patients tested positive for fentanyl or derivatives thereof.

Discussion included a more aggressive use of the Marchman Act to compel treatment.

Though the program is experimental, at least one solution (medical cannabis) is a dealbreaker for Pomm.

“Right now, we’re trying to keep this as clean as possible,” Pomm said. “Bringing other things in will only muddy the waters.”

Committee Chair Bill Gulliford noted an irony: the more successful the program is, the more resources it will need.

And, he cautioned one person, the program is experimental.

“If it is successful, we have to look at the question of how to expand it throughout the county,” Gulliford said, “and how to fund it.”

 

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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