Hospital or morgue: Where an overdose will take you

Doctor has watched rate of opioid overdose patients rise dramatically


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you experience a drug overdose, you will go to one of two places: the hospital or the morgue.

Dr. Steven Goodfriend is fighting against the opioid epidemic, hoping he can save your life before you die.

Goodfriend directs the emergency department at Orange Park Medical Center’s main site. He's watched the number of opioid overdose patients increase dramatically.

"About two years ago is when we started seeing a little bit of it, and then it really kind of ramped up over the past year and a half," Goodfriend said. "It's just been a steady influx of patients since then."

Some patients are brought by ambulance, but others are left outside the emergency department.

"It happens a fair amount, a lot more in the past couple of years than it has in the past. It seems like it's a weekly occurrence," Goodfriend said.

"Why do you think someone would drop someone off, as opposed to calling 911?" we asked.

"I think there's a fear," Goodfriend said. "I think if you're engaged in activities that are, you know, against the law, you're not going to want the police or EMS to come to your house."

Some friends stay and tell emergency department staff their friend stopped breathing, but they don't know why. That's because new laws are cracking down on drug dealers who sell deadly combinations of opioids.

For the first time in history, for the 4th District State Attorney’s Office, a drug dealer, Trumaine Muller, is facing a murder charge for selling drugs that killed someone. The victim, 19-year-old Ariel Brundige, was taking drugs with two men. Because they gave her the drugs, they're in jail too.

We spent the day with Goodfriend to see how often overdose patients came in to the hospital.

"Yesterday, talking to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue paramedics, they said it was a very busy day," Goodfriend said. "One station had at least seven overdoses in the area, which is a fair amount, and today we have already seen one overdose."

Seven overdoses in one day is considered normal. The next day, there may be none.

"It comes in spurts, and that's in relation to when people start using the drugs, when the drugs become available, when they get sold on the streets. If it's a higher concentration, especially of fentanyl, we will see a rush of patients," Goodfriend said.

As with any addiction, opioids have a ripple effect that extends far from the emergency room. According to Fair Health, insurance claims in the United States have skyrocketed.

In 2015, all patients were a cost of about $10,000, but for opioid abuse or dependence patients, it was $50,500, which is 500 percent higher.

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Many overdoses patients survive. They are revived with Narcan, an opioid reversal drug. But, according to many doctors, because the patient is addicted to opioids, they will return with another overdose. If they don’t survive, they will end up at the morgue.

We took viewers behind the scenes last May after overdose deaths in Duval County more than doubled, going from 201 in 2015 to 464 in 2016. The number is expected to double again. In Clay County, it was 43 in 2015 and 70 in 2016.

Dozens of autopsy records for drug overdoses show the culprit was fentanyl.

The District 4 Medical Examiner's Office covers Clay, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton and Nassau counties. The morgue at the office is overwhelmed with dead bodies because the overdoses are coming in so fast.

For months, Dr. Rao has been asking for more money. Each autopsy costs about $3,000 and, with about 30 overdoses a month, that's about $90,000 a month just for overdose death autopsies.

We followed her to the budget meetings. She has been asking for more money and a new building. Now there is hope: She could get a new building, but it will take five years. It would cost $15 million.