An increase in drug overdose deaths in Santa Barbara County is being driven by fentanyl, and the Sheriff’s Office, backed by a coalition of community leaders, is taking another step to reverse that trend by distributing free naloxone starting this week.
The latest overdose death statistics from the Sheriff’s Office show a total of 168 drug overdose deaths in 2022, with 115 of those, or 69%, related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often used by drug manufacturers and dealers to cut or even replace other drugs.
That compares to 133 overdose deaths in 2021, with 78 of those, or 59%, related to fentanyl, and 113 overdose deaths in 2020, with 37, or 33%, related to fentanyl.
Used as a filler, fentanyl increases the potency of other drugs and because it’s cheap, extends the volume of drugs like heroin, thus increasing profits.
Virtually all Oxycodone sold on the streets is really fentanyl, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
But buyers, often novices at drug use, frequently don’t know the drugs they’re buying contain fentanyl, which the DEA says is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
As little as 2 milligrams — equal to the weight of two $1 bills — can be a lethal dose, especially to new users who have no resistance to opioids. Because cartels don’t adhere to quality control, there’s no way to tell the potency of a dose.
Those factors are behind the rising number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl, officials say.
Because of the sharp increase in fentanyl deaths, the Sheriff’s Office and Project Opioid, a coalition of community leaders from various disciplines, are supporting the distribution of naloxone. Often known by the brand name Narcan, it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick.
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“Narcan is a harmless, yet miraculous drug that reverses the often-lethal effects of an opioid overdose,” said County Sheriff Bill Brown. “Simply put, it’s easy to use and it saves lives.
“Making more Narcan available to community members will help us lower the unacceptably high rate of overdose deaths we are seeing in our community and across the nation,” Brown said.
Beginning this week, the Sheriff’s Office is hosting a free distribution program through the Department of Health Care Services Naloxone Distribution Project at the Sheriff’s Headquarters in Santa Barbara, as well as the Santa Maria and Carpinteria substations.
In addition to providing Narcan to members of the public, the program is aimed at increasing awareness about the opioid crisis and the importance of naloxone in saving lives, Zick said.
Members of the public can come to the lobby of one of the three stations during business hours to obtain information about a short instructional video and receive their doses of Narcan.
Individuals are not required to provide personal information to participate, Zick said.
The Santa Maria substation is located at 812 W. Foster Road. The Carpinteria substation is located at City Hall, 5775 Carpinteria Ave., and the Sheriff’s Headquarters is located at 4434 Calle Real, Santa Barbara.
The Sheriff’s Office and partners in Project Opioid that also have Narcan distribution programs include Pacific Pride Foundation, the Santa Barbara Opioid Safety Coalition, UC Santa Barbara Student Health Services Alcohol and Drug Program, and Fentanyl is Forever SB.
Zick said the Narcan Distribution Program is an important step toward achieving Project Opioid’s goal of reducing the number of overdose deaths in the county, and the department encourages community members to take advantage of the program to help save lives.