As Southwest Florida laid down to sleep, Ramona Miller went to work on the streets of Lee County, answering the texts and phone calls of opiate addicts who have her on speed dial.
“You don’t know you’ve overdosed until you wake up and your friends are like, you were dead,” said Lucy Tapia, who had phoned Miller from a Publix parking lot in Fort Myers after shooting up with her girlfriend. “If it weren’t for Narcan I'd be dead.”
Like J.D. Salinger’s "A Catcher In the Rye", Miller, through her nonprofit A Voice In the Wilderness, catches the Tapias of the world before they fall off the cliff; giving them the opioid blocker for free and training them to use it.
In the medical world it's called harm reduction; the first line of opioid defense. With money from Gov. Rick Scott’s opioid emergency declaration last year, Voice In the Wilderness is among several groups making Narcan easier to get in Southwest Florida.
But only Miller is taking it to users where they live.
Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
From Naples and Immokalee, Miller, 47, first worked in Southwest Florida's foster care system at the Ruth Cooper Center, before Florida privatized child welfare.
"I found myself drawn to the children who were aging out," she said. "They were the hard cases. The runaways no one wanted who were going through homelessness and addiction."
Seeing them fall through the bureaucratic cracks, Miller thought she could do better. She struck out on her own, setting up A Voice In the Wilderness on a shoestring of less than $50,000 a year with private donations and grants.