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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 3, 202110:39 AM EST

Chamber and Florida Blue join to fight opioid deaths

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Project Opioid JAX recruits city leaders to spread awareness about addiction and mental health.
by: Dan Macdonald Staff Writer

The JAX Chamber and Florida Blue launched a campaign Nov. 2 to change the way opioid addiction is treated and erase the stigma of mental illness.

They brought together 200 people from business, churches and city government at the Jacksonville River City Downtown Hotel to discuss the formation of Project Opioid JAX. 

Pat Geraghty, president and CEO of GuideWell and Florida Blue, told the group that fentanyl is the opioid that is killing most of today’s victims.

“We did a pretty good job of controlling OxyContin but fentanyl is much more difficult to cut off,” Geraghty said.

Pat Geraghty of GuideWell and Florida Blue spoke at the Project Opioid JAX event about the need for open discussions about addiction and fentanyl overdoses.

Florida Blue took OxyContin off its formulary in 2018. That is the official list of medicines that may be prescribed. Doctors also have been more careful about prescribing opioids, Geraghty said. 

In the past, a prescription may have been a 30-day supply. Today, opioid prescriptions are enough doses for just three to five days.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Geraghty said nearly 585 people died of an opioid overdose in Duval County in 2020.

Project Opioid JAX is one of several “Regional Super Advocates” of the Orlando-based Project Opioid, with other groups in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa Bay. 

Its mission is to educate people about addiction, offer resources for treatment and open discussions throughout the community.

The Florida Blue Foundation has awarded Project Opioid and its advocates $1.7 million in grants, according to a Florida Blue news release.

JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis said the chamber became involved because opioid addiction is costing Jacksonville lives and money. Addicts trying to treat themselves are less productive, he said.

“Every family in our community is connected to this in one way or another. Every business is,” Davis said.

“There is a large economic impact to this in the workplace and we need to do everything we can to eliminate it and help our community heal from these terrible situations.”

The event included testimonials from Steve Betz, president of Danis Construction, and Sheryl Johnson, general counsel for Covius. Both lost sons to opioid overdoses. 

They spoke about the need to rid the shame of opioid addition.

“Stigma was our biggest frustration in our journey,” Johnson said. 

“Addiction is a mark of disgrace,” Betz said.

“We don’t know how to talk about this. It’s dirty. People ask, ‘What’s the matter with you? Why can’t you stop?’” he said.

Andrae Bailey, Project Opioid founder and CEO, asking the group to join Project Opioid JAX to educate the community about the importance of recognizing and treating addiction early and changing the perception of shame when it concerns mental illness.

Geraghty spoke about how COVID increased cases of anxiety and depression, and that those dealing with the conditions might self-medicate with fentanyl.

“The collision of the COVID pandemic and opioid epidemic is creating tremendous stress in our communities. The loss of work and social isolation has led to increased rates of depression and anxiety and as a result, we’ve seen heartbreaking increases in the number of overdoses and overdose deaths,” he said.

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