Ocala builds an entire recovery community for opioid addicts

The Ocala Recovery Project is an unprecedented one-stop shop for addicts

OCALA, Fla. – Not far from downtown Ocala is a bland batch of buildings named Beacon Point. The unassuming campus has become a beacon for those who’ve lost their way, overtaken by opioids.

Travis McAllister, supervisor of the peer recovery team, took News 6 on a tour.

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“This is where Life Stream is. We do outpatient recovery therapy here,” said McAllister, pointing to the buildings. “Building 5, this is where SMA (Healthcare) is at, they run the medication assisted treatment program.”

The peer recovery team is a group of recovering addicts, McAllister included, who now counsel current addicts.

“And a peer is someone with lived experience,” McAllister said. “We want someone that has either been in addiction or has lived through an addiction, like face-to-face with a family (member) or friend. And we bring that experience to the people we’re trying to serve so they feel more comfortable while they’re in recovery.”

Beacon Point is one of the few all-encompassing campuses in the state where addicts at any stage can come for every kind of treatment.

It opened in 2019 with the goal of preventing repeat overdoses, keeping addicts out of emergency rooms, and ultimately helping addicts get clean and back to normal life as much as possible.

Michael Harris, vice president of behavioral health at the Marion County Hospital District, said addicts were falling through the cracks after overdoses.

“That was the problem,” Harris said. “We found a significant gap in ‘What next?’ after emergency rooms. So what we bring is that what next.”

Ocala Fire Rescue has since jumped on board, driving addicts directly to Beacon Point either from their home or from the ER.

Ocala Fire Rescue Capt. Jesse Blaire has hired a full-time “community paramedic” through a federal grant to deliver the overdose-reversing drug Narcan when addicts or their loved ones call and ask for it.

In 2019, when rescuers first began leaving behind Narcan, along with instructions on how to use it and do CPR, Blaire said the results were discouraging to start.

The addicts just kept taking the drug and overdosing, according to Blaire.

But then, Blaire discovered the fire department was paying it forward.

“Fast forward two years and now a small percentage of people we go to who overdosed have already received Narcan from someone at the home,” Blaire said. “That happened just two times last week.”

Firefighters are leaving behind 40 to 50 doses of the drug every month, Blaire said. And now they’ve given out enough Narcan that those who’ve gotten it are giving it to others who need it and saving their lives.

Ocala Fire Rescue has a Narcan delivery hotline you can call around the clock at 352-239-5585. Or you can visit their website.

Blaire said the community paramedic exclusively handles calls from addicts.

“A ‘community paramedicine’ is a proactive approach where instead of waiting for someone to call 911 and go to the hospital, we visit them periodically or on some kind of a schedule, and we address their chronic problem before they become emergencies,” Blaire said. “That allows a person to take care of themselves at home instead of going to the hospital. It was a way for us to keep our citizens healthier and reduce the use of 911 and reduce the number of beds occupied by chronic problems instead of emergencies.”

When rescuers drive the addicts to Beacon Point, Blaire said that’s called a “warm handoff.”

“We take that person and we drive them or find a ride for them to the next step, and we make sure that next step understands what’s going on and they pick up the torch and they run with it,” Blaire said.

Blair said it is only with all of the professionals and volunteers at Beacon Point that they can get results together.

“There are probably a thousand people that we work with just to get one person better,” Blaire said. “You can call the fire department and the fire department will come to you wherever you are and introduce you to those thousand people.”

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.