During 2016, there were over 100 murders in Duval County.
The number stirred plenty of alarm in the per capita murder capital of Florida.
Is it a crisis?
So what do we call 345 drug overdose deaths before the end of 2016?
Because that’s how many people died from drug overdoses in Duval County between January and November 2016, according to the District 4 Medical Examiner office.
What do we call an ongoing tragedy so pervasive in our community that the area medical examiner’s morgue freezer is frequently crammed to capacity with its victims?
Because that’s what District 4 Medical Examiner Valerie Rao recently revealed during an interview with WJCT radio host Melissa Ross.
Rao told Ross that the morgue is handling so many drug overdose victims, most of them casualties of opioid abuse, that she’s had to notify hospitals and funeral homes to hold off bringing in new bodies for autopsies.
She’s struggling to make space available for them.
Given all this, it’s hard to find one word — one phrase — that fully describes what Jacksonville is confronting when it comes to drug overdoses in our community.
But City Councilman Bill Gulliford has probably come the closest to nailing it.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Gulliford told a Times-Union editorial writer not long ago.
“The numbers we see on this are truly staggering, and these are just the numbers for overdose deaths,”Gulliford added.
“We’re seeing three times as many deaths from drug overdoses as from homicides. But the attention we’ve been paying to it isn’t even close to that. We need to start addressing this as a community.”
Gulliford is right.
TIME FOR ACTION
It’s time for local leaders to adapt a sense of urgency in confronting Jacksonville’s drug overdose epidemic.
It’s a sense of urgency that’s well overdue.
It must lead to local leaders, both inside and outside City Hall, coming together to examine why fentanyl — a powerful opioid that can be easily abused and has been linked to many of the overdose deaths — has obviously become so easily accessible in our community.
It must lead them to — using Gulliford’s words — “shout it from the rooftops” at every opportunity that our community is being ravaged by drug overdoses and other horrors stemming from skyrocketing opioid abuse.
For now through the foreseeable future, for example, every single meeting of City Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee should include some discussion on addressing our drug overdose epidemic.
And this much-needed sense of urgency must also drive local leaders to launch an intense campaign of community awareness that not only hammers home the dire statistics about overdose deaths in Duval County but also how the toxic tentacles of drug abuse are reaching every segment of our community.
For instance, how many of our citizens actually know that Duval, Baker, Nassau and Clay counties effectively represent Florida’s “Ground Zero” for newborn babies suffering from the effects of opioid or illicit drug abuse by their pregnant mothers?
Well, that was the stunning conclusion reached by the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition in a wide-ranging report released last year.
The lack of attention that we’ve paid to the ticking time bomb in our community — the devastation of drug overdoses — must end.
Yes, Jacksonville’s murder rate is a crisis.
Yes, it must be confronted.
But Jacksonville’s high rate of drug overdoses must also become a high priority in this city.
It’s time to take action.
It’s time to raise awareness.
It’s time to start defusing the time bomb.