A South Florida New Year's Story

The following is a true story written by John DeGroot:

At 41 years and crippled, Jason Roy Thomas says he will not take his life before 2008 – something he tried and failed to do this Thanksgiving past.

In a proud act of faith, Jason has decorated a small tree in the one-bedroom condo he shares with his cat in Fort Lauderdale and plans to ring in the new year.

“Somehow,” he says, “I know I’ll still be here.”

Trouble is, Jason must deal with a huge burden of physical and emotional pain brought on by a horrific accident last New Year's Eve, which is what prompted him to choke down a would-be fatal assortment of pills as Thanksgiving approached last November.

“I was tired of living with it,” Jason says. “I know it was selfish and self centered, but I just wanted to end it all. Then someone found me before I could die, which I is how I ended up in the mental ward at

Imperial Point as a Baker Act.”

Baker Acts resulting from people wanting to harm themselves or others are a growth industry in Florida, according to the latest trends reported by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of Baker Act examinations mushroomed:

-- Nearly four times as fast as the general population in Florida and Broward County.
-- More than five times as fast as the general population in Palm Beach County.
-- More than 12 times as fast as the general population in Miami-Dade..

But we’re getting ahead of our story.

The world of pain that led to Jason’s failed suicide began nearly a year ago after he fell asleep at the wheel of his car on New Years Eve and crashed into a utility pole.

“They said I should have died,” Jason says. “But thanks to the doctors and nurses at Broward General Hospital, I survived.”

Jason spent over three weeks at Broward General, recovering from a broken neck, two collapsed lungs, a fractured hip, several crushed vertebrae in his lower spine, multiple broken ribs, and assorted contusions.

“I only had three drinks at the New Year’s party,” Jason explains. “But that
was enough to make me fall asleep on the way home New Year’s morning.”

Unable to walk, Jason was discharged in a wheel chair, his broken body encased in various casts and braces.

“I’m not sure how many pain meds I was on,” Jason recalls. “But it was enough to get me addicted.”

As months of grueling and costly physical therapy passed, Jason graduated from a wheelchair, to crutches, to the cane he currently uses to get about.

Ironically, until his near fatal accident, Jason had worked at a local gym as a physical trainer.

“But after my accident,” Jason says, “there was no way I could earn a living until recently – and then it’s only been as a part time handyman at the gym.”

Naturally, what savings he had have vanished.

So now the bank’s ready to repo the one-bedroom condo he shares with his cat.

Plus he lost his health care insurance.

Trouble is, a visit to the psych ward at a local hospital isn’t cheap.

For example: your hospital bill could run you over $36,000 as a mentally ill patient at Coral Springs Medical Center in Broward County.

“I haven’t seen my bill yet from Imperial Point,” Jason says. “So I don’t know what it’s going to be.”

Jason spent seven days at Imperial Point following his suicide attempt.

“I only saw a psychiatrist once,” Jason says. “The rest of the time I slept and watched television in between my meals and meds.”

Jason was discharged from Imperial Point on November 20. Upon his release, he was given prescriptions for:

Efexor XR, 75 mg, 1 pill daily.
Flexorial, 10 mg, 1 pill three times a day.
Oxycodone, 30 g, 1 pill every 4 hours.
Klonopin, 0.5 mg, 1 to 2 pills 4 times a day.
Reneroh, 45 mg, 1 pill at bed time
Seroquel, 400 mg, 1 pill at bed time
Restoril, 30 mg, 1 pill at bed time.

In other words, our local health care system’s solution to Jason’s suicide attempt was to have him take 18 different pills a day and call a local drug treatment center..

“Just before I left the hospital, a social worker told me I should try to get in Spectrum for my drug addiction,” Jason says. “But when I called Spectrum, they said there was a three month waiting list.”

Jason was admitted to Fort Lauderdale Hospital with a diagnosis of chronic depression and addiction on December 4 -- exactly two weeks after his discharge from Imperial Point.

“I spent four days at Fort Lauderdale Hospital,” Jason says.

Basically, what they did for Jason, was to replace his daily dose of 75 mg of Efexor with 60 mg of Cymbalta.

No matter.

Jason’s still struggling to avoid tumbling into another hole Black Hole of depression with 18 pills a day.

Trouble is, Jason’s seven different prescriptions are running out. Plus he’s lost his health care insurance.

"I’ve called everywhere,” Jason says. “But no one says they can help.”

If Jason lived in southern Broward, he would have been taken to Memorial Regional Medical Center – where mentally ill and suicidal patients are offered a comprehensive after care program following their discharge.

Instead Jason chose to be suicidal in the tax funded North Broward Hospital District, which provides inpatient psychiatric care at Broward General and Imperial Point – but offers little more than a handshake and a large hospital bill when their mental patients walk out the door.

No matter.

Right now, with the new year coming and all, Jason is scraping out an existence in the little condo from which he may soon be evicted along with his cat - while taking it one day at a time until he runs out of pills.

SUICIDE BY THE NUMBERS -- A GROWTH INDUSTRY

Baker Act Examinations – Five Year Trend

Florida
Baker Acts
2000 15,982,378
2005 17,918,227
Increase 12.1%

Exams
2000 83,989
2005 125,575
Increase 49.5%

Broward
Baker Acts
2000 1,623,018
2005 1,740,987
Increase 7.3%

Exams
2000 8,331
2005 10,784
Increase 29.4%

Miami-Dade
Baker Acts
2000 2,253,362
2005 2,422,075
Increase 7.5%

Exams
2000 7,448
2005 14,507
Increase 94.8%

Palm Beach
Baker Acts
2000 1,131,184
2005 1,265,900
Increase 11.9%

Exams
2000 6,084
2005 10,024
Increase 64.8%

SOURCE: Agency for Health Care Administration

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