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Advocates say social stigma costing lives in opioid epidemic battle

Florida receives more the $1 billion after settlement
Posted at 3:45 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 17:53:34-04

LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis call a historic $26 billion agreement to pay for opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery a large step forward.

Moody said the money holds major pharmaceutical companies accountable after they played a part in fueling the opioid epidemic accountable.

But others say the $1.3 billion that Florida will receive is just a drop in the bucket.

"I'm in the mission of just saving lives, and I just feel like no one should have to die if we have the means to save their lives," said Pastor Cameron Ellis of Christian Deliverance House of Prayer.

Pastor Cameron Ellis
Pastor Cameron Ellis discusses his push to curb opioid death.

Ellis is a Lake Worth Beach pastor who doesn't shy away from uncomfortable talks.

"More churches need to talk about real issues because I have preached several funerals due to drug overdose," Ellis said.

That's what solidified a bond between the pastor and Luis Garcia, an opioid mortality reduction advocate.

"I spent almost $50,000 of my own money just trying to save lives," Garcia said.

Garcia brings Narcan and overdose prevention training to church.

"The only thing we know for sure is if they're dead, they will never recover," Garcia said.

Luis Garcia, opioid mortality reduction advocate
Luis Garcia (left) says the opioid addiction problem affects everyone in American regardless of race or economic background.

Garcia is a retired firefighter and paramedic who is still fighting fires in the form of stigma.

"This is a disease that does not discriminate. It affects Black, white, rich, poor, old young," Garcia said.

He's unsettled by a Medical Examiners Commission report that reveals opioid-caused deaths in Florida have increased by 51 percent since 2019.

Garcia calls Florida's settlement portion inadequate.

"It’s been created by a village. It's going to take a village to resolve this problem," Garcia said.

Luis Garcia brings Narcan and overdose prevention training to the Lake Worth Beach church.

That's why Garcia has been ramping up his outreach efforts since 2017. He has distributed 6,000 Narcan sprays thanks to GoFund Me contributions.

"Every church needs to have this conversation and every church needs to educate their people," Ellis said.

All that's needed now are more invitations to distribute and educate, saying it's a communal life or death problem.

"Stigma is the greatest challenge," Garcia said.

"The Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Ellis said.

Garcia is open to visiting churches, nonprofits, police and fire departments to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related deaths.

Click here to learn more about Garcia's efforts to curb opioid-caused deaths or call (954) 859-4696.

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event scheduled to be held Aug. 31.

Click here to learn more about the state's historic litigation agreement.