Pasco County has consistently ranked among the hardest hit areas of Florida throughout the opioid crisis.
But county substance abuse and mental health leaders continue to band together to approach the problem as a community.
Tuesday night, Recovery Epicenter and the Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention hosted a vendor fair at Calvary Chapel Worship Center in New Port Richey alongside several community organizations and the county health department.
Rachel Starostin with Recovery Epicenter, Inc., helped organize it. She refers to herself as in “long-term recovery.” She said when you want to change a community, you start with your own.
“It’s so awesome to be able to come back and give back to the same community that I caused so much harm in, resources that I depleted. I was a negligent mom, my children went to live with my family. They're here tonight, they live with me, they’re home, they're going to be helping pass out Narcan for other moms and dads until they're ready to get better.”
Art Rowand, a former sergeant for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and current board member for Pasco ASAP, demonstrated how to use the opioid antagonist, in nasal spray form, to revive someone who has overdosed on heroin, fentanyl or pain medications.
“It's only a temporary fix to get you into the medical system, the EMS system,” Rowand said. “It is not a solution. It's just like a first aid kit. You put a Band-Aid on a cut, you have a fire extinguisher in case you have a fire, you use a seatbelt in case you get involved in a traffic crash. The Narcan is in case you make the mistake and you overdose or your loved one overdoses, and you're able to least get them to help that they need.”
Those who have overdosed and been revived with Narcan still need medical attention.
Florida first responders have been carrying Narcan for years.
In 2016, it first became available at Florida pharmacies for anyone to buy without a prescription. But a two-dose box of the brand name drug, which was handed out at this event, costs about $130.
Narcan has a two-year shelf life and can’t be stored in direct sunlight. It can be used on anyone, regardless of age or weight. And if someone is unconscious and it’s not an opioid overdose, it won’t harm them.
David Smith, who attended the event, says he's concerned about his brother, who frequently uses opioids.
“I thought, well, if I had the Narcan, if he came over and passed out in one of my chairs, I would know what to do with it,” Smith said. “And I learned, even if it's something else he's sleeping from, even if was a hard day's work, I'm not going to hurt him with the actual nasal shot."
A 30-minute panel discussion after the demonstration focused on reducing stigma and offering recovery services. Panelists included a pharmacist, law enforcement officers, recovering substance abusers, and a parent whose child overdosed.
Mike Jenkins, who oversees the narcotics unit at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said they can't arrest
their way out of substance abuse issues, because that strategy alone is “completely and totally insufficient.”
“There are people who need help. And so we focus on the supply issue, right, that's going after the traffickers and the dealers,” Jenkins said. “But the real issue is the demand. And that's where the partnership with our community partners comes in, to help people who are struggling with addiction, talking about education, talking about prevention, talking about recovery.”
Data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed people in Pasco County are 1.7 times more likely to die of a drug overdose than the average Florida resident.
And while Pasco went from the 5th highest number of overdoses in Florida to 10th, it doesn’t mean fewer people died. Other counties are just doing worse. Cesar Rodriguez, a member of ASAP’s Recovery Committee, said events like the one Tuesday are a good way to keep the conversation going.
“It’s important to have this conversation to decrease stigma of addiction, so people can get the help they need,” Rodriguez said.
Rachel Starostin with Recovery Epicenter said anyone who wants Narcan, free of charge and no questions asked, can reach out to her at (727) 255-2036.