State's Coordinated Opioid Recovery program expands to include Gulf County

Gulf is the only of the program's counties classified as being rural

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Jeffery Marshall was in and out of jails and prisons for more than a decade before he was able to receive treatment for substance abuse, he shared before those gathered at a press conference in Port St. Joe on Wednesday.

“When you’re controlled by a substance for so long and so much, it becomes a lifestyle to you,” he said. “It took years for me to hit a point where there was nothing and no one else left.”

Now, Marshall is six years sober. He said he had made it through the system four times before he began his recovery. “It’s a cycle,” he explained. “You get released, and you end up in the same place you were when you started.”

Marshall’s testimony was shared in connection with the roll-out of the state’s new program aimed at addressing a growing number of opioid deaths in Florida.

What is CORE?

The Coordinated Opioid Recovery, or CORE, program aims to provide a network of cooperating agencies as a resource to address all aspects of substance abuse and overdoses, from housing insecurity to mental health issues.

Its pilot program in Palm Beach County tapped agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families, county governments and local healthcare resources to comprehensively address the issues that lead to and come from substance abuse.

“Can you think of any life threatening disease where we expect a patient to do nothing?” asked Kenneth Scheppke, the deputy secretary for health for the Florida Department of Health. “Why would (addiction) be different?”

“There’s scientific, medical, evidence-based treatments that work well for this particular disease. We just have to navigate the patient through it.”

Typically, when somebody overdoses, they’re taken to the nearest hospital and released once they are out of danger, often with pamphlets, but usually without a clear pathway to sobriety. 

The program lays out a process in which an overdose patient will be treated by emergency personnel who have training in substance abuse. Then, they will be transported to medical facilities equipped to deal with addictions, similar to someone who is taken to a trauma center.

The process then calls for a transfer to a multi-specialty medical group to start medication-assisted treatment, according to a press release from the DOH.

This program will be expanding in up to twelve counties, including Gulf, in two phases. Gulf County will be a part of Phase One.

“We did an evaluation of all counties in the state to see who had the highest per-capita problems, had the most need, had the necessary infrastructure we could build off of if we needed to,” said Scheppke about how these counties were selected.

Why Gulf County

“We don’t necessarily see the numbers in the longer game when it comes to opioid addiction,” said Jody Daniels, the director of Gulf County EMS, “but we do have people that we go to on a repetitive basis. And that’s something that I think with this program we can hinder.”

Daniels said he was initially skeptical of the program’s viability in Gulf County.

“Being from a rural county and working in rural counties, having staffing issues and such, I was really concerned with how we would ever pull it off,” he said during the press conference. “We’ve formulated a plan. There’s been a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, and we’ve come up with something that we think will work for Gulf County.”

But beyond how it met the infrastructure and need-based criteria, Scheppke said Gulf County was attractive as a location to roll out the program because of its rural nature. 

Gulf is the only of the program’s 13 counties that is listed as a rural county with the Florida Department of Health.

“That was also attractive to us, to have a place where the problem exists, but there is traditionally a lack of resources compared to some of the larger counties,” Scheppke said. “That was definitely one of the program's goals, to make sure we could do it in a place that has a need but doesn’t have all the traditional resources — to be able to cobble together what was here and make it successful.”

Scheppke said implementing the program in a rural area required a slightly different approach, with fewer resources grouped into what he called a “one-stop shop.”

“I’m not sure it’s a lack of resources as much as it is that things are siloed, meaning you might have a piece over here and a piece over here,” he said. “So one of the necessary components of having a coordinated network is to be able to break down those silos and have a seamless referral system so that you, as a patient, don’t have to figure out where to go and how.”

“It doesn’t have to be under one roof. It just has to be coordinated.”

CORE, Coordinated Opioid Recovery, Gulf County, Port St. Joe, Department of Health, Addiction, Treatment

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