Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the third-largest fire department in Florida, has a problem – a major one. A series of scandals and overdose incidents have indicated that the first responders of the Hillsborough County are endangering their lives, those of their colleagues and of other people that they are meant to save by doing drugs such as marijuana and cocaine – both on and off duty.
Substance abuse is rampant among firefighters in all rungs of the department, from engine drivers to the captains. There have been instances of employees failing the drug test and of the first responders being investigated for stealing medications from the very people they are supposed to rescue. When a first responder does drugs on or off duty, it constitutes a major breach of trust. For, how can one administer the lifesaving CPR when he or she is on a high?
Furthermore, drug addiction could deteriorate to the extent that it blemishes the career and endangers the community. In addition, colleagues are complicit if they fail to notify the authorities after observing fellow medics taking cocaine or marijuana, and reporting to duty. Chief Dennis Jones, who was pulled up from his retirement to clean up the mess in the department, already knows what is afoot. He has promised that if the department’s employees are abusing legal or illegal drugs, then he would do everything to stop that practice.
Drug testing of employees and appropriate follow up action is necessary to control the spread. However, in Hillsborough County, a failed drug test enlists a day’s suspension and a promise to fulfill a rehab, which is quite lenient when compared to termination in Pasco County or criminal prosecution in Broward County. Unlike other counties, random testing for drugs is not in practice, which would put pressure on the officer to avoid doing drugs while on active duty.
Need for better interventions to prevent untimely loss of life
Failure to apprehend the situation has led to the loss of several young and innocent lives. In December 2016, Nick Perez, a much decorated fire medic, was found unresponsive at a friend’s home. He had overdosed on Vicodin, an opioid painkiller and anti-anxiety medication. The authorities suspected cocaine as well. Though CPR was provided, it was not sufficient and he succumbed four days later.
Nick’s sister, Dina Perez, indicated that her little brother was worn down by the daily battles of being a first responder. “He was just really grappling with loss and the futility of life,” she said. The nature of the job took a toll and he was prescribed antidepressants, but soon he got into the habit of self-medication. Firefighters, medics and first responders are daily witness to unhappy incidents, deaths and gruesome accidents.
Many take drugs to black out the memories of a bad day at work. According to the National Fallen Firefighters Union, more firefighters are dying of overdose or from suicide than from accidents on the job. A blanket ban on drugs while on active duty and random drug tests and rehabilitation in case an employee fails a test seems to be the best course of action. In addition, continued vigilance could prevent a tragic fallout like that of Nick Perez.
Quitting drugs is possible
Whether it is cocaine, heroin, or some other drug, there is no doubt that they can severely affect personal and professional life. Sovereign Health of Florida offers excellent facilities for cocaine addiction treatment and other substance abuse-related problems. Using scientific and evidence-based treatment methodologies, our empathetic staff provide help to patients seeking rehab for cocaine. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online for more information related to our finest cocaine rehab centers in Florida and other parts of the country.
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