Flagler and Volusia are among the leading counties in per capita overdose deaths; organizations and residents are trying to change that.
The Flagler County Drug Court Foundation had expected 70 to 80 people to take part in its vigil commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.
Participants were to meet at Wadsworth Park and then walk over the bridge to Veterans Park where residents would give their testimonials and tell their stories. But Mother Nature didn't cooperate, so the vigil became a Zoom event.
Overdose Awareness Day is meaningful in both Flagler and Volusia counties, which are among the state leaders in per capita overdose deaths.
In the most recent statistics released by the Florida Department of Health, Volusia County was second in the state behind Citra County with 69.2 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2020. Overdose deaths soared in Flagler County from 10.3 per 100,000 in 2018 to 51.8 in 2020.
Non-fatal overdose emergency room visits in both counties have increase every year from 2015 to 2020.
Last year, there were 407 overdose deaths in Volusia County, according to the Volusia County DOH. In Flagler, there have been 16 overdose deaths this year through Aug. 26, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Flagler County sheriff deputies and firefighters have administered 180 doses of Narcan so far this year.
Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, saves lives by reversing the effects of opioid overdoses, quickly restoring normal breathing.
"I just believe we need to get to the root, get to the children and the parents before it causes a bigger problem in their lives. We have to be able to talk about this and be comfortable talking about it."
— RENEE DEANGELIS
"The first thing we have to do is save the life before we can get treatment," Renee DeAngelis said during the Flagler County Zoom event.
DeAngelis' daughter, Savannah, died of a fentanyl overdose five years ago. Narcan might have saved her life.
Renee and her husband, Chip, have been working with the Flagler County Drug Court Foundation and the Flagler County Opioid Task Force since 2018 educating the community about Narcan and the addiction problem.
"I wanted to help other families from being devastated the way we lost our daughter, because it's just the worst thing that can ever happen to anybody, to lose a child," she said. "I just believe we need to get to the root, get to the children and the parents before it causes a bigger problem in their lives. We have to be able to talk about this and be comfortable talking about it."
Mike Feldbauer, who runs the Flagler County Drug Court Foundation, talked about reducing the stigma, because addiction affects people from all demographics, young and old, he said. There is also a stigma surrounding Narcan, with some people wrongly believing it can encourage drug use or prevent users from seeking treatment.
"We take it as our job to educate people on how to administer Narcan and removing the stigma about Narcan," Renee DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis and Feldbauer have a meeting scheduled with Flagler Schools' Director of Student Services Marquez Jackson on Sept. 9 to discuss providing Narcan to the schools' nurses' offices.
A new state law relating to overdose prevention authorizes public schools to purchase and store naloxone on campuses. Currently the School Resource Deputies carry Narcan. DeAngelis said John Fanelli, Flagler Schools' coordinator of behavior and conduct management, and Flagler County School Board member Cheryl Massaro have been instrumental in helping the Flagler County Drug Court Foundation set up the meeting.
"We do have Narcan on campuses. The deputies have it," Fanelli said. "But we want to make sure that if something were to occur, that we are prepared to address it. We have never had an incident like that, but we always want to make sure we have what we need to keep our students safe."
Fanelli stressed that he was not speaking for the district, which has not approved or finalized anything yet.
Fanelli said the district is also in the process of drafting a request for proposal (RFP) with Flagler Cares about partnering on a substance abuse prevention program for the school district.
"We're hoping to have some viable options on the table by the end of September," he said.
FIGHTING THE PROBLEM
Substance abuse treatment is one of the five focus areas that Flagler Cares identified in its most recent community health needs assessment. The organization is using about one-third of Dr. Stephen Bickel's initial $1 million donation to the organization for mental health treatment, including a medication assisted treatment program for opioid users. Bickle has announced a $1 million a year donation to Flagler Cares for the next 10 years.
Bob Snyder, the administrator of the DOH in Flagler County recently told The Observer that the department will receive a $1.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address overdose deaths and addiction in the community.
"We're working with community partners to put together a plan and get an addiction stabilization program initiated here in Flagler, because right now we really don't have much to offer relative to addressing addiction," he said.
SMA Healthcare offers substance abuse services in Volusia County. SMA Healthcare distributes Narcan, said Wendi Jackson, a spokesperson for the Volusia County DOH. The Volusia County Recovery Alliance also distributes Narcan in the county, prioritizing distribution based on location data the health department provides.
"Holly Hill Pharmacy also provides Narcan with every medical assisted treatment prescription," Jackson said. "We've heard that's about 60 prescriptions a month."
DRUG COURT PROVIDES ALTERNATIVE
The Flagler County Drug Court was established in 2006 as an alternative to jail for non-violent drug-related felonies. John Dioguardi is the coordinator. Offenders who are dependent on alcohol or drugs meet with a judge, state attorney, probation officer and treatment provider. If accepted, the offender agrees to undergo a 157-week program.
"There's a lot of great people, talented people, loving people, people who have families that have been swept away in this battle. But they're not forgotten, and we fight because of them."
PASTOR CHARLES SILANO
"It works," said Feldbauer. "We have a high non-recidivism rate. Our non re-arrest rate is in the high 70 percentile."
The Flagler County Drug Court Foundation began in 2009 and helps take over after the three-year drug offender program ends. The foundation helps with GEDs, job training, finding new jobs and auto repair.
"All things the court can't do," Feldbauer said.
Charles Silano, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Ministries, chairman of Grace Community Food Pantry and founder of Open-Door Re-entry and Recovery Ministry, provided the opening prayer at the Zoom event.
"I don't have words to describe what this event should mean to all of us and what it means to me," he said. "There's a lot of great people, talented people, loving people, people who have families that have been swept away in this battle. But they're not forgotten, and we fight because of them."