OCALA, Fla. – Measuring the success of a program without hard data is difficult, like what the fire department has been doing in Ocala: leaving behind the overdose-reversing drug Narcan after an overdose call or dropping it off when people call the fire department and ask for it.
Ocala Fire Rescue knows exactly how many doses it has distributed since starting the controversial leave-behind program four years ago.
But how many of those specific doses have been used to revive overdosing addicts is impossible to accurately measure. Many overdoses go unreported, especially if the drug abuser survives the overdose.
Regardless, stories of success are making their way back to Ocala Fire Rescue, including the most recent: when good Samaritans ran to the front office of a motel to grab Narcan during an overdose because they knew the motel manager kept it on hand.
The manager, it turns out, had gotten it from paramedics who had intentionally left it behind.
By the time Ocala police got to the Cove Motel on South Pine Avenue the night of April 17, the woman they were racing to rescue was alive.
Police body camera video shows an officer speaking with someone staying at the motel.
“I knew he had Narcan, and I thought maybe Narcan would bring her back,” the guest said. She was talking about the motel manager, Samuel Rivera.
“We keep our Narcan in the back of the counter right here,” Rivera said as he lifted the Narcan container from behind the counter.
He keeps the life-saving nasal spray handy and ready because he’s had to use it twice in just the past few months.
Rivera said the most recent overdose surely would have resulted in death if he had not had Narcan available.
“She would have died,” Rivera said. “She was super bad. We had to Narcan her twice, compress her chest until we got her revived.”
Ocala Fire Rescue Capt. Jesse Blaire is the one who delivered the Narcan to the Cove Motel.
“We’ll have some days where we’ll have 13, 14, 15 overdoses,” Blaire said.
Blaire and dozens of other community paramedics in Marion County deliver Narcan all day, every day, everywhere across the county - whenever they believe it’s a good idea to leave the drug behind or when someone calls the fire department and asks for it.
Capt. Blaire started the Narcan leave-behind program in 2019, when News 6 first met him.
“In 2019, our plan was to give out Narcan to prevent people from dying,” Blaire said. “Fast forward to 2023, we have probably 10 or 15 partners, all of our hospital providers are on board. We have a robust recovery system.”
Blaire himself started by dropping off 40 doses per month, paid for by the state. Now, Marion County community paramedics drop off 300 per month.
“That’s a ton of Narcan,” Blaire said. “It solidifies that there’s a huge problem. An epidemic. I think people use the term epidemic, it fits that bill absolutely.”
Capt. Blaire now uses 911 call data to pinpoint where Narcan would be most needed, and that’s where it’s most dropped off.
“More than ever, we’ll go to the scene of an overdose call where the patient has already been revived with some Narcan that we left behind,” Blaire said.
Blaire is among the most progressive first responders in Florida. He pushed for a community of resources in Ocala for recovering addicts.
Still, overdoses have not dropped in Marion County - they’re averaging 200 a month, and 18 people die from overdoses every month. But they have not increased like in most of Florida and the United States.
“They’re not going down, but they’re not going up,” Blaire said. “That’s a piece of success, yes. I know there are people that aren’t entering the system because of the Narcan we’ve left behind, and I lose sleep over that. I struggle with that because if they don’t enter the system, then we don’t have a shot at them.”
Whether it’s a motel or hospital, Ocala fire rescue follows up on every overdose. Community paramedics bring along a peer specialist - someone who’s been through it and is now in long-term recovery - and they’ll connect the addict to a detox facility or, if they choose, out-patient counseling.
Blaire said Ocala Fire Rescue also has the authority to administer medication that calms the craving for opioids, so in many cases, they do that until the person gets into a detox facility. Palm Beach County has been doing the same and has a 50% success rate, Blaire said.
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