Clinton gets peek into area opioid epidemic

By Eric Cravey
Posted 11/2/17

ORANGE PARK – Debbie Kelly reached out her hand and began explaining her reason for starting the Derek Hatcher Foundation more than a year ago.

As she went on to explain that her son Derek had …

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Clinton gets peek into area opioid epidemic


ORANGE PARK – Debbie Kelly reached out her hand and began explaining her reason for starting the Derek Hatcher Foundation more than a year ago.

As she went on to explain that her son Derek had died of a heroin and fentanyl overdose in February 2016, former President Bill Clinton reached out his left hand and cradled hers.

“He was very sincere. I was really amazed, and he showed how much he

really cared. He thanked me several times for my bravery and for what we’re trying to do for the community. It was just really nice,” Kelly said Oct. 31 reflecting on the meeting with Clinton at an event at Orange Park Medical Center.

Clinton’s stop in Orange Park was part of a three-day tour of Clinton Foundation projects and programs related to the opioid crisis, food insecurity and infant mortality. Prior to coming to the Jacksonville area, Clinton spent two days in Baltimore, Maryland discussing the opioid crisis with public health officials and law enforcement. After his stop at OPMC, Clinton met with officials at the University of North Florida’s expanding nutrition program.

Kelly was at the hospital meet and greet as a member of the Northeast Florida Drug Task Force spreading her message about how prevalent heroin is in the region and how dangerous the drug is.

“We talked about how many people are affected by this and it’s getting worse and people need to be educated and need long-term treatment, unfortunately they never get long term treatment. Long term treatment is needed, not jail,” Kelly said.

Hatcher, a standout quarterback at Ridgeview High, played college football at the University of Arkansas, but left the program when he became disgusted, Kelly said, with the rampant drug use among his teammates. He later transferred to Charleston Southern University in South Carolina.

“Pain pills were all over the place and they[the players] just shared them like they were candy,” Kelly said.

Through the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Northeast Florida Opioid Community Task Force will be receiving 500 units of NARCAN – a nasal formula of naloxone – to help prevent death in cases of heroin overdoses. The NARCAN will be distributed through partnerships the Task Force has with drug education coalitions from Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns Counties. In Clay County, the task force member is the Clay Action Coalition.

“I spoke to President Clinton and I mentioned how we need prevention education for our youth and that an educational component is needed in our schools and other partners in our community to educate youth about the dangers of opioid use and really, substance abuse, in general,” said Donna Wethington, executive director of the Clay Action Coalition.

Wethington said the Task Force is still formulating its protocols on how it will distribute the NARCAN.

Former Monroe County Sheriff Bob Peryman, a member of the Northeast Florida Drug Task Force who now lives in St. Johns County, told Clinton there is a sea of change that has to take place in the law enforcement community. Peryman advocates for treating the drug addict who is arrested, which runs counter to the War on Drugs approach prevalent in the U.S. since the Reagan administration. Clinton asked Peryam where the heroin found in Northeast Florida is coming from.

“It’s coming from Mexico, but it’s coming from all over the place. The biggest problem – and I hate to even say this – but if it fits, it ships, Mr. President,” Peryam said, inciting laughter among the onlookers.

“Do you have any homegrown fentanyl,” Clinton asked.

“We do not right now, not in this area,” Peryam said. “It’s being shipped through the United States Postal Service…by UPS, by FedEx, by everyone else and there’s so few postal inspectors that it’s hard to monitor that and keep control of it.”

“You guys remember though, you’ve really got to support them and the more you shift down from opioids and heroine, especially if it’s laced with fentanyl, you are likely [to see] that the delivery system will get more violent,” Clinton said.

Clinton warned that if the violence does scale up in the drug community, that could force law enforcement to go to the tough on crime War on Drugs mentality. Peryam assured the former president that he is “not going back to the old ways.”

“Treatment has to be long-term treatment – not seven days, not 14 days – it has to be long-term treatment,” Peryam said. “The folks that are the drug dealers – and this is the law enforcement side coming out of me – they need to be jailed. The people that have issues with addiction they do not need to be put in jail. They need treatment. They need help. They need assistance.”

“I also think there’s more to be done, with especially young people, before they become addicted,” Clinton said. He said people need to be told that if they combine opioid use with alcohol abuse, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

“This will kill you if you fall asleep,” Clinton said.

Teleauba Revels, 37, of Jacksonville, told her story of recovery to former President Clinton and how she got off drugs with the help of the Jacksonville-based Azalea Project, a program of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. Four years ago, Revels was a patient at Gateway Community Services for a multi-drug addiction while expecting her son.

“They came to my home, brought a bassinette because I had planned on sleeping with my son – he didn’t have his own separate bedroom and I couldn’t afford a crib. I got a lot of education about breastfeeding and I was able to breastfeed him for nine months,” said Revels, whose son was born with no signs of addiction to the drugs she was on at the time.

Revels began volunteering at the Azalea Project and, within months, she was nominated to the Coalition’s board, a position she still holds today. She said, the project helped her find her voice as a mother and as a woman.

“It’s accountability too. It’s like not only am I accountable to myself, but I became accountable to the women who were pouring into my life and I don’t want to let them down. I did it for myself, but it helps me stay on the straight and narrow,” said Revels, who also serves as a certified peer specialist at Gateway Community Services.

Faye Johnson, executive director of the Coalition also met Clinton. She said while her organization has not applied for a grant or other funding from the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the organization has been in partnership with the organization for years and worked with Ashley Smith Juarez, who runs the Jacksonville office for the Clinton Foundation. Juarez served as a liaison – much like an emcee – between Clinton and the local presenters during his visit to Orange Park.

Clinton also toured the pharmacy at OPMC where he observed a secure medication tracking system the hospital uses to review everything from patient historical prescribing data to health issue history.

During the pharmacy visit, Clinton asked how much would it cost to design and implement such a system nationwide to track opioid use and prescribing.

“There’s nothing in the privacy laws that would prohibits it, is there,” Clinton asked OPMC Pharmacy Director Jodie Graves.

“HIPAA protects us, it protects the patients,” Graves said. “We see where there’s lots of opportunities.”


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