PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Escambia County has seen more overdose deaths this year than any other county in Florida and a new state-funded program will help people struggling with drug addiction.

When it comes to overdoses, local health experts say it’s mostly fentanyl killing people.

“The potency of it is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin,” Dr. Mark Stavros said.

This year, Escambia County EMS has responded to more than 1,800 overdoses (not all fatalities) which is nearly double the total number in 2021.

“Now we’re getting people who never intended to use fentanyl and we run across several of them who are marijuana users or whatever and it’s been laced with fentanyl and now they’re a statistic of it,” Escambia County Public Safety Director Eric Gilmore said.

The state is funding what’s called the CORE Program to help people with addiction. It will be offered to patients after an overdose while they are still in the hospital.

“Once an individual has agreed to enter into this program and is being prescribed Suboxone, there is a warm handoff to community health for continued maintenance,” said Chandra Smiley, CEO of Community Health Northwest Florida. “It’s not just maintenance of Suboxone. It’s also looking at the overall health of that individual.”

After a patient is discharged from the hospital, a team of health professionals will visit them in their homes. They will be connected to social workers, psychiatrists and a primary care provider.

Dr. Stavros at HCA Florida West Hospital said he thinks this program will be successful in the community.

“I think as a community we can address this as we realize what addiction is,” Dr. Satvros said. “That it’s not just a behavioral/moral failing. That we can actually do something about this. I think if we understand that as a community, we can make a huge difference and come together and fight this.”

Gilmore expects the CORE Program to start within the next two months.

Local first responders also use Narcan to save lives. It’s a nasal spray that immediately reverses an overdose. The Escambia County Health Department is now giving away Narcan to anyone who may need it for a loved one.  

“That is available to the public,” said Marie Mott with the Escambia Co. Health Dept. “They can come in and ask for it. There’s no questions asked. No identifications required.”

County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh said there is a 10-bed detox facility that recently opened in Escambia County.