Duval County

Coronavirus: Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department sees increase in overdose calls

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the wake of COVID-19, many people are struggling during these trying times. For some of those with addiction issues, it has been a big battle.

Overdose 911 calls are rising all over Duval County, but specifically in two hot spot ZIP codes.

In the month of March alone, Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department (JFRD) said it responded to 436 overdose calls. This is a 20% increase from February.

“It seems to of correlated,” Chief David Castleman, of JFRD’s Rescue Division, said. “When all of this started with COVID-19 is when those overdoses began to increase.“

Chief Castleman said the 103 Street corridor, off of the 295 beltway, is considered ground zero for overdoses. That area is the 32210 ZIP code. He added the 32218 ZIP code also has a lot of overdose-related calls.

“We have overdose responses throughout the entire city,” Chief Castleman explained. “But, those two ZIP Codes represent the highest combined... nearly 50% of our overdose responses.“

Action News Jax reporter Meghan Moriarty spoke with two mental health experts about these findings.

Nan Hucker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with Baptist Health. She is also in recovery, and said she understands both personally and professionally how the pandemic is taking a toll on those in recovery.

“I think it’s a lack of hope that makes people reach for the bottle or reach for the pills.” Hucker said. However, in times like now, she hopes people find a support group. “That’s my hope for people, is that if one is struggling with addiction and has not connected to a recovery community there’s no time like the present to do that.“

Hucker suggests online meetings. Northeast Florida Intergroup services is hosting meetings 24 hours a day, according to its website. Another resource is a one-on-one phone call with a crisis counselor. Baptist Behavioral Health has a direct number you can call (904-202-7900) and resources online.

“The meeting I attend on Tuesday night, with the same people I’ve been meeting with on Tuesday night for many many many years, it is different,” Hucker said. She admits that online meetings are not the same as in person. They present different challenges. “It’s not quite the same, especially as being able to hug people and touch them, and being present in that way.”

Still, she advocates for communication either online or through the phone.

“With the physical distance, there’s been sort of a craving to be near people and find a different way to do that,” Hucker said. “While it’s not ideal, I think it’s very doable. And, I think it’s amazing that this crisis has come in a time when telehealth, for instance, was beginning to be set up by quite a few organizations.”

Moriarty also spoke with Stacey Henson. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker of 25 years. Henson works for The Recovery Village.

“I think peoples coping skills are really being tested,“ Henson said.

She offered some tips for people who may not want to go to a meeting.

“Going back to the basics,” Henson said. “I’ve heard a lot of people in recovery, and they pulled out some of their old AA books; reworking the steps if that’s helpful.”

Henson said she also still takes walks with her neighbor, but they practice 6 feet apart social distancing. She also had turned her dining room table into a “no screen zone.” It’s covered in puzzles, coloring books, crossword puzzles, and other activities.

Both Henson and Hucker agree the best way to cope is by communication.

“The basic things are reaching out to people, being supported by people,” Hucker said. “I think there’s nothing more important you can do, than communication.“