OCALA, Fla. – The Ocala Police Department's Opioid Response Team used to attempt to find addicts who overdosed within 72 hours of being released from the hospital. They discovered that was too long.
Ocala Police Department Maj. Robin Ford said addicts didn't want to be found. Addresses didn't match up.
"We had absolutely no success in finding them after the fact, and that was our problem, that was the issue," Ford said.
So Ford and the the Opioid Response Team turned to then-volunteer Phil O'Day for advice.
O'Day is a recovering addict.
"I started using when I was 10, years ago," O'Day said. "I bought a gram of hash to celebrate fifth grade and never looked back. Went to prison three times. I did heroin every day for a year and a half. Heroin took me to places I thought I'd never go."
O'Day got clean accidentally, he said, through a prison alternative drug program.
He understood that addicts who are revived using the overdose-reversing drug Narcan only want to get high all over again.
"If you're actively using heroin addict, you're a slave to heroin," O'Day said. "If you came in for an overdose, you're going to go out and do some dope to just to keep from being horribly sick. Actively using heroin addicts are no longer trying to get high, they're trying to keep from being sick."
O'Day said hospitals aren't equipped or programmed to get addicts help in the long term.
"They hydrate you, stabilize you and then must turn you loose," O'Day said. "They don't have detox facilities or anything in the hospitals. That's where we come in."
O'Day recommended to the Ocala Police Department that the Opioid Response Team not wait 72 hours but rather respond immediately to the hospital when an overdose is reported.
"Reach them while they're still in crisis because as a recovering heroin addict, I know we're most reachable in a crisis," O'Day said. "This was a completely unaddressed population. They were getting no help. Nobody's fault, just the way it is."
So the Ocala Police Department hired O'Day as its "opioid navigator."
O'Day responds 24 hours a day to overdoses.
"They give me a name, date of birth and which hospital they're going to," O'Day said.
O'Day said addicts in the hospital will listen -- especially to a fellow recovering addict -- because they're at the lowest of their low points.
"I don't ask them any questions at first, I tell them this is how I kicked heroin, how I stay off heroin, and if I can, anyone can," O'Day said.
O'Dell tells addicts about treatment options that are free, like the Ocala Police Department's Drug Amnesty Program. If an addict comes to the PD for help, the PD will coordinate with The Centers to guarantee a bed, long-term treatment and a real chance at surviving. Addicts pay nothing and will not face any charges from police.
"This heroin-fentanyl thing is not something people can get over without assistance, it's just not," Ford said. "The whole purpose of the fentanyl is to make it so addicting so they keep coming back, and back and buying and buying and buying."
O'Day said as of last month, he met with more than 40 addicts in the hospital after they overdosed. Ten so far chose to seek treatment after the meeting.
"We're getting results, we're making a difference. It's a win-win for the police departments, for the hospitals, for the addicts," O'Day said. "Be part of the solution when I've always been a part of the problem is big for me, this is my hometown."