“There’s definitely a direct correlation.” Overdoses up in Jacksonville as hospitals are overwhelmed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A cluster of three large, historic homes, coined “Home Away from Home” sit quietly on Pearl Street in the Springfield area of Jacksonville.

Tom Gillikin runs the three duplexes that have been around for about 20 years.

“I was a resident here before I became manager here,” Gillikin said. “My job is to take them [tenants] into the house, and get them all settled and take care of them on a daily basis.”

Gillikin has a bond with the residents in this sober living community of 22 men.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict,” Gillikin said. “I find myself talking to the other men, and when I get done, I think, ‘Well, I’m glad I’m clean and sober so now that I can talk to these men.’”

The home is part of the Northeast Florida Sober Alliance. It’s a nonprofit comprised of sober living homes through Northeast Florida. It houses over 330 men and women in recovery.

“We are at max capacity,” Gloria Devall said, referring to the sober living homes. She is one of the founding members of the Northeast Florida Sober Living Alliance. “Just about everybody I know is at max capacity.”

The number of overdoses in Jacksonville has been steadily increasing since 2016, according to data given to Action News Jax from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

Action News Jax reporter Meghan Moriarty obtained the overdoses transport numbers from 2016 until August 2021.

Moriarty tagged along during an exclusive ride-along to discuss the increase in overdoses.

“We’ve doubled the amount of Narcan that we give now to somebody who is in full arrest,” JFRD Captain Eric Prosswimmer said. He adds that not only are they seeing heroin laced with fentanyl, but they’re finding patients overdosing on cocaine laced with fentanyl too.

Isolation is also playing a role in the uptick of patients. The numbers peak at the same time that COVID-19 cases peak in hospitals.

“There’s definitely a direct correlation,” Capt. Prosswimmer said. “Then as things started to open up, the numbers start to drop again. Then as soon as our second wave of Delta variant started kicking off, numbers started to increase.”

Right now, Gillikin said the sober living home cannot hold its routine meetings because of COVID, but he is still determined to helping those struggling.

“I’m here when they need things — whether it be their room, whether it’s AA, whatever comes about is what I do,” Gillikin said.

Even if the homes are full, Gillikin and others from the alliance can still help. Click here for a list of the resources here in Jacksonville for housing.