A COVID-19 related spike in overdose deaths in San Diego County has fueled a behavioral health crisis. In 2020, the County reported 457 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. This is a 202% increase in one year, from 151 recorded deaths in 2019.
To help save lives, the County will begin offering nasal Naloxone to the general public at several community-based locations and clinics throughout the region. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose and quickly restore normal respiration and alertness.
County Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten M.D., M.P.H., in partnership with Chair Nathan Fletcher and County Director of Behavior Health, Luke Bergmann, signed a Naloxone Standing Order allowing community organizations to distribute nasal Naloxone. The overdose reversal drug will be available at no cost and without a prescription to any person at risk of an overdose or to a family member or friend willing to administer the drug. The expanded distribution is part of a harm reduction strategy that will be introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting next month.
The County made Naloxone available to law enforcement many years ago, but like CPR, time is critical as overdose patients need immediate intervention to improve their chances of survival. In some situations the overdose patient needs immediate intervention to survive. An overdose from opioids may take hours to cause death, but other drugs such as fentanyl can cause death in a matter of minutes.
Nasal Naloxone is a prefilled, needle-free device that requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril while patients lay on their back. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look for these signs if you suspect someone is overdosing from heroin or prescription opioid pain medications:
- Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
- Limp body
- Pale, clammy skin
- Blue fingernails or lips
- Vomiting or gurgling sounds
- Unable to speak or be awakened, loss of consciousness
- Slow breathing or slow heartbeat
The County offers numerous prevention and treatment programs across the region. People seeking help should call the San Diego County Access and Crisis Line 888-724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego. These resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.