Ocala Recovery Project success story moves council
Robert Allen Jr., left, a recovered drug addict, who overdosed in an Ocala hotel on August 31, 2020, talks with Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander, center, and Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken, right, after Allen spoke to the City Council about his success in the Ocala Recovery Project during an Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.
It’s been three and a half months since Robert W. Allen Jr. overdosed on fentanyl in a local Ocala hotel.
During Tuesday’s Ocala City Council meeting, Allen stood at the podium wearing a gray button-down shirt, which he had tightly tucked into his black slacks. He didn’t look like an addict.
“I’ve been an addict for 30 years,” Allen revealed. “I tried everything.”
But when Captain Jesse Blair of Ocala Fire Rescue greeted Allen at the hospital on Aug. 31, Allen was asked the one question that would turn his life on its axis: Do you need help with fighting your addictions?
Blair works all hours of the day receiving calls regarding overdoses in Ocala. He greets each victim at the hospital, as part of Fire Rescue’s Ocala Recovery Project. Allen is just one of the 207 overdose calls that OFR has responded to in 2020, which is an 80 percent increase from 2019, Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken told the council on Tuesday.
And while councilmembers love seeing quantifiable evidence of the program’s successes, no number can compare to the weight of a testimony like Allen’s.
“Since I got in the program, Ocala Rescue, my whole life has changed with the time of my last use to the time I’m standing in front of you,” Allen said. “And it’s an honor to be here to show proof that this program does help. For somebody like me, since this program has gotten in my life, I got a job, I’m handling my responsibilities, I have life insurance, I got medical insurance, I got dental insurance, I attend meetings, I do service work. I’m giving back to the community. It’s not about me, it’s about me helping another addict.”
Captivated by Allen’s story, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn was moved to ask if Allen had a family.
With an emotional Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander standing to his right, Allen confirmed that he did have a family – including children.
“This is probably the best Christmas present they’ve ever had, right?” Guinn asked Allen.
“Mayor, this is the best Christmas present they ever had since they’ve been born,” Allen said. “And my mom and dad can sleep. They don’t have to worry anymore. I have a place to lay my head. I have food. I can shower. I have clothes to wear. It’s just a great feeling. It’s like, I don’t even think about using anymore because I think about the consequences of if I did. I don’t want to live that life no more.”
Allen went on to gush about Blair and how the head of the Recovery Project remains in contact with him even through his sobriety.
“To have someone to call you and tell you how you’re doing, that’s a good feeling,” Allen said. “Doing drugs, you don’t get that love from nobody.”
And for the six minutes that Allen stood at the podium, he was loved by each of the nine officials at the dais.
Councilman Ire Bethea Sr. was happy to offer words of wisdom to Allen.
“I think we’re all very proud of you. Remember, this is an everyday battle. It’s not over,” Bethea said. “You know, you’re doing great and I got all the confidence in the world that you will continue. But don’t you think you got it licked. It’s a day-to-day battle. One day at a time.”
“If I didn’t stick with this program, I wouldn’t be here in front of you now. And that’s the God’s honest truth,” Allen said. “And I’m thankful that Ocala has a program like this to help addicts like me sand other people to get another chance at life.”