There is a crisis in the country. And it’s here in San Luis Obispo County as well. The opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, “An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. struggle with an opioid use disorder. Rates of opioid overdose deaths are rapidly increasing. Since 2010, the number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled from more than 21,000 to more than 42,000 in 2016.”
What are opioids? Opioids are a class of drugs that include medications, such as oxycodone, which are commonly prescribed to treat pain, as well as illegal drugs, such as heroin. In San Luis Obispo County, opioid-related overdose deaths increased from 15 in 2006 to 37 in 2016 and it’s affecting people of all ages.
So what are we doing about it? Last month, the Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the county to begin carrying naloxone kits in our patrol vehicles. Naloxone, which is also known by its brand name Narcan, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications. It’s been called “the second-chance medicine.”
Working with the County’s Public Health Department, we were able to get the Naloxone kits in our vehicles and get all of our Deputies trained in administering the medicine. It comes in two forms, injectable or nasal spray. We are utilizing the medicine in the nasal spray form. Naloxone is non-addictive, has virtually no side effects, and has no potential for abuse as it does not produce any “high” effect. And it works quickly by restoring respiration within two to five minutes, and may prevent brain injury and death.
There is another use for naloxone. Illegal drug labs use Fentanyl in the process of manufacturing illicit street drugs. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid drug which is approximately 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is used either as a cutting agent or direct substitution for heroin or in the manufacturing of counterfeit Oxycodone pills. First responders are increasingly likely to encounter fentanyl in their daily activities like responding to overdose calls or conducting searches of illegal drug labs. Exposure to fentanyl, either through direct skin contact or inhaling particles of it in the air, can be deadly. That’s where the naloxone kits can be a lifesaver for our first responders.
Besides our patrol units, we’ve also given naloxone kits to deputies in our Narcotics Unit, Gang Task Force and in our Civil Division. To use Naloxone requires training every two years that is performed by a physician, registered nurse, physician’s assistant or a paramedic licensed in California. As a result, we implemented a change to our policy manual detailing the responsibilities of using Naxolone. The total cost to equip deputies with the naxolone kits is approximately $6,000.
The goal is to get all law enforcement agencies in the County enrolled in the Naloxone program with the County’s Public Health Department and hopefully reduce the number of overdose deaths and increase the number of lives saved.