ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — According to Escambia County Medical Services Manager Chief David Torsell, the county leads the state in not only opioid overdoses, but heroin, morphine, fentanyl and cocaine overdoses.

“We get more than one trophy,” Torsell said. “We are doing the best in everything we don’t want to be recognized for. This is a huge problem.”

Torsell said he never thought he would understand the full realm of the issue until he started looking into what his crews are responding to on a daily basis.

“When I first started here, we were averaging about 4 and a half, to five overdoses a day,” Torsell said. “As of yesterday afternoon, we were at 5.72 overdoses a day. That number just keeps on going up. From 2019 to 2020, while the state as a whole saw a reduction in overdose, Escambia County saw a double in the number of overdoses.”

Last year, Torsell said Escambia County EMS responded to 1,095 overdose calls and administered 1,391 doses of Narcan. In this year alone, Torsell said they have surpassed that number.

“As of yesterday, we are at 1,423 overdose calls,” Torsell said. “So, even though we may see a slow down coming up on the holidays, we expected that we were going to surpass last year’s numbers. By the end of the year, I expect that we are going to be at about 1,800 or 1,900. We’ve given 1,114 doses of Narcan this year and we still have three and a half months in the year. That is not something I like to brag about. It is something that frustrates me because I don’t have the answer. People often look to us for an answer and I can’t give them that, but I can give them a possibility for change.”

During the county board of commissioner’s Committee of the Whole meeting tomorrow, Torsell will give a presentation on the Coordinated Opioid Recovery program, which will help prevent overdose deaths in Florida. The program was successfully piloted in Palm Beach County for nearly two years and will be expanding in up to 12 counties to break the overdose cycle, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ website. Escambia County is part of the nine counties selected for the program. Other counties included are Brevard, Clay, Duval, Gulf, Manatee, Marion, Pasco and Volusia Counties.

“There was a very strict amount of criteria that they utilized to select these counties,” Torsell said. “Unfortunately, we were number one on their list. This program is going to introduce something, that I believe, that we are missing.”

Torsell said the CORE team is comprised of Escambia County EMS, the three local hospitals, Community Health Northwest Florida and the local health department and has been meeting now for several months.

“There is something that is missing, and whether it be following through, case management, wrap around services, whatever you want to call it, if someone goes to a hospital and is treated for addiction, and then is discharged and given a referral to go somewhere for long term addiction therapy, you’re not going to see them again until they come back for their next overdose,” Torsell said. “Nobody is following up. They get a little piece of paper that says, ‘Your follow up is this day. Go here. Goodluck to you.’ The missing piece is somebody following up with these patients as soon as they leave the hospital, or even before they leave the hospital and introducing who we are and telling them that we are going to follow them through this process. Whether you are living in a camp, couch surfing, or homeless, we are going to know where you are and we are going to stay with you through this process.”

How will the county follow these addiction patients? Torsell said through their community medicine care program.  

“They will be there for these patients on a daily basis,” Torsell said. “We will be visiting them every day to provide medications and therapy, in the field, which has been done in Palm Beach County since 2018. They have a remarkable retention rate with those that have gone through their program. 90 percent of what we see is people saying that they are going to do something and then never seeing them again. Now, we are going to be there. We are going to see you within 24 hours of you being discharged from whatever hospital you are at. That way, we can give you the additional follow-up doses of medication and a whole intake process to find out whatever other needs you have.”

Another big issue that patients are facing is transportation, Torsell said.

“You would think that in a community this big, this wouldn’t be an issue,” Torsell said. “I have talked with many people in this community, and it is. People can’t get to their appointments. No one is going to walk or ride a bike for 10 miles in the rain to an addiction therapy appointment. They’re just not. So, we decided that is something we can fix. EMS has partnered with ECAT to obtain some vehicles that we can use to take people back and forth from their appointments. I’m going to be hiring EMTs that will be driving, not only so they will have medical training, but they will be able to take these patients back and forth to their appointments. It’s a familiar face they get to see on a regular basis so they can feel comfortable with what they are being a part of; not just given a piece of paper.”

Torsell said the community medicine care program will be 24/7, so patients get the same care at 3 a.m., that they do at 3 p.m.

“Somebody may have that three in the morning addiction problem where they don’t know what to do,” Torsell said. “Now, you will be able to pick up the phone and my team is going to be there for you through this difficult time until we can get you the resources that you need.”

For Torsell, it all comes down to a choice.

“We can try something different and add a little something that we have never done before or we can go down the same path that we continue to go down and watch the same results, which are not very successful,” Torsell said. “I’m not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, because I am apart of this too, but I’ve heard so much talk about the continuum of care here and it is here, but it is not what everybody thinks it is. If it was as great as everybody thought it was, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be seeing these numbers. That’s not on anybody, we just need to do a better job. I need to do a better job. This is the commitment that we are going to make to do that.”

The program will last until July of next year, at which Torsell said, the state will analyze their data and success. He said the goal is to do the program for three years to do a wholistic evaluation and then add five counties to the program.

“I fully believe that we are going to make a very positive impact and start making some changes,” Torsell said.  

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