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Escambia County Core Program is changing lives

There was a time in his life when 29-year-old Treble didn’t think his parents would ever speak to him again, amidst years of drug addiction and a lifestyle that nearly killed him more times than he can remember.

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Now, Treble is living with his parents, rebuilding their relationship, preparing to start a new job – and he’s been clean for three months and counting.

Treble – which is a name he gained on the streets – is among the first participants in the Escambia County CORE Program, or Coordinated Opioid Recovery Program, which aims to disrupt the revolving door of addiction by connecting overdose patients to sustainable care and personalized treatment.

“It all starts in change,” Treble said about his decision to participate in CORE. “The thing about addicts is we do these things over and over and over, and we expect something to happen. But when you get accustomed to that mentality, change is often scary. One thing about this program is that I just took a chance, I took a leap of faith. I wanted to make sure that if they’re willing to help me, I’m willing to put in the work.”

The state-funded addiction recovery program expanded to Escambia County in late 2022, with the county accepting its first CORE patient in February 2023. Escambia County currently has 20 patients in the program, with 17 successful CORE graduates since the program’s inception.

Since entering the CORE Program, Treble said he has been transparent about sharing his story in hopes that it may help inspire someone else to seek recovery.

Treble struggled with drug addiction throughout his adult life, which led to a lifestyle of instability and uncertainty, not knowing how he’d make it through each day or where he’d sleep each night. Treble and his husband, who also suffers from substance use disorder, spent some nights sleeping under interstate overpasses or homeless camps, and other nights were spent moving between hotels or drug houses.

Even as he lost friends to drug overdoses and street violence over the years, and even after overdosing many times himself, the desire to get high continued to consume Treble. After he watched a dear friend he regarded as his sister die of an overdose, it sent him into a spiral of anger, depression, and more drugs.

“It really just did a number on me,” Treble said. “I had lost so many people from the streets already at this point, but none of them were my sister. I just couldn’t grasp it.”

Treble continued to use and sell drugs for months after her death, until he finally decided he was ready for a change.

“I had turned into this monster, and I could not see a way out of it,” Treble said. “And I understood that in order for me to become successful, I had to get clean. I couldn’t use and do the things I needed to do.”

Beginning the journey to recovery through the CORE Program is a voluntary decision that only the participants can make for themselves. Sometimes that decision is made after an overdose, or participants may just recognize they have a problem with drugs and choose to seek help through the program.

The first contact with CORE is typically through Escambia County EMS, whether it’s after an overdose call or through proactive outreach by EMS. Once EMS stabilizes an overdose patient and takes them to a hospital for medical care, the patient can choose to enter the CORE Program.

Escambia County EMS Chief David Torsell said the overall goal of the CORE Program is to help as many people as possible by getting them successfully through the program and off drugs. EMS has responded to over 3,000 overdose calls in Escambia County so far this year, which has already surpassed the total number of overdose calls in 2022.

“We’ve got to bring them in here and let them know somebody cares about them, somebody’s going to follow them on a very difficult journey to get off of drugs,” Chief Torsell said. “We’re going to be there to give them the support, the face-to-face care, that interaction 24/7. You can’t discharge them from the hospital and say, ‘good luck,’ because they’re going to be back two hours later overdosed, or the next day, and nobody really resolved the problem.”

After a patient enters the CORE Program, EMS will start by giving the patient a dose of medicine every 24 hours to help stabilize withdrawal symptoms, with a goal of getting the patient into long-term drug treatment and counseling within 7-10 days.  In order to support sustainable recovery, patients will be provided personalized treatment for their long-term care needs, ranging from primary care to mental health support.

Recovering from drug addiction is not an easy road to travel, but CORE aims to provide as much support as possible to individuals in the program. Treble said one of the things he appreciates most about CORE is that he’s accepted without judgment, and he can openly share his struggles during recovery.

“I have triggers just like everybody else, but one thing I like about this program is that I’m not just another junkie,” Treble said. “I’ve proven that I want to get clean, I’ve proven I have goals, I’ve proven I want to be somebody. It’s changed my life so I’m not just an addict, or I’m not just a junkie, and I can be somebody.”

Escambia County EMS Supervisor Joey Kerman has worked with Treble since his first day in the CORE program, and he said the transformation has been incredible to witness. Although Treble may sometimes dwell on the things he hasn’t yet accomplished, such as long-term goals for his life and ca­reer, Kerman said he encourages Treble to focus on how far he’s come already.

“How about the fact that you were in a situation where you were offered drugs, and you turned around and walked away?” Kerman has reminded Treble. “That, to me, is the biggest win I could ever hope for. Because you were confronted with your past, and you said no. You are the hero of this narrative.”

Kerman said one of the greatest rewards has been seeing Treble reconnect with his parents for the first time in years and rebuild his relationship with them.

“He went from crying saying, ‘I don’t know if my parents ever want to see me again,’ to living at their house again,” Kerman said. “They want to buy him a car. They’re proud of the man he’s becoming. The things that he never thought in his life – the things that addiction was stealing from him.”

Treble said he hopes to continue to help others who are struggling with drug addiction, and he even completed a class recently to become a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist.

For anyone who may be on the fence about entering the CORE Program, he simply said: “Just do it.”

“Try it and see,” Treble said. “And once you do it, you’ll know life gets better – because it does.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder and would like more information about CORE in Escambia County, please call 850-477-HELP (4357).