Project Save Lives on verge of expanding thanks to success in treating opioid addiction

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A taxpayer-funded pilot program credited with saving lives is on the verge of going city-wide.

Project Save Lives puts people who have overdosed on opioids directly into recovery programs.

City leaders, medical professionals, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department representatives and treatment specialists met at the UF Health Jacksonville towers to discuss the program’s benefits and to figure out the next steps.

One of the attendees was Jaime Davis, the manager of emergency shelter services at the City Rescue Mission, who said she’s seen the impact of the opioid crisis firsthand.

“I have actually seen overdoses. We’ve had people come to our facilities, they are really in need of help,” Davis said. “Somewhere along the course of their recovery, they end up getting ahold of heroin laced with fentanyl, and we’ve had to call the rescue to come out and revive them.”

The opioid crisis remains at critical levels, but recently, JFRD started to see a decline in overdoses. That drop began around the time Project Save Lives started in November 2017.

“We do a warm handoff to treatment. We take them there, we pick them up,” said Dr. Raymond Pomm.

Pomm is the chief medical officer of Gateway Community Services, an agency that has been at the forefront of implementing the pilot program since day one.

Listen to more on the opioid epidemic with the Family Focus special 'The Opioid Epidemic - Local Communities in Crisis':

Project Save Lives brings together emergency rooms, mental health workers and recovery peer specialists who meet the overdose patients in the ER.

“If they’re not going into detox right from the [emergency department], or if they’re going right to residential, we pick them up. If they refuse traditional treatment, we still engage with them on a regular basis,” Pomm said.

Because of its success, Project Save Lives is now expanding from St. Vincent’s two emergency departments to more local emergency rooms.

“We just got legislation approved to go to St. Vincent’s Clay and work with Clay Behavioral,” Pomm said.

On Friday, the group will also be tasked with choosing the first two emergency departments to expand to between May 16 and Sept. 30.

The goal is to have a total of 7 emergency departments involved by the end of the next fiscal year.