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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 18th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 27

Santa Barbara County opioid abuse higher than state average

By Zac Ezzone

Recent state data shows Santa Barbara County continues to struggle with opioid abuse rates and deaths higher than the state average.

Over the last decade, the county has had a higher rate of non-fatal emergency room visits linked with drug usage compared to the state average. This trend continued in 2018, during which the county recorded 648 non-fatal drug-related emergency room visits, according to recent data released by the California Department of Public Health. 

The rate of emergency room visits in the county related to opioids has increased by more than 55 percent from 2010 to 2018, according to a news release from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. The county recorded 69 drug-related deaths last year, 31 of which were related to opioids. Of those opioid deaths, 29 percent were related to fentanyl, which is an increase from 9 percent in 2015.

“Recent drug overdose trends in Santa Barbara County are concerning. … The most critical interventions to prevent future overdoses are local harm reduction strategies and substance use disorder treatment programs that provide medications for opioid use disorder,” county senior epidemiologist Joy Kane said.

The day the county released its statement on the recent state data, it also announced that county officials found heroin in a housing unit at the county jail.

Around 2 p.m. on Aug. 29, jail personnel responded to an inmate who collapsed in a general population housing area with 27 inmates, according to a press release. The jail’s nursing staff recognized that the inmate was experiencing an opioid overdose and administered narcan, which began to reverse the effects. 

While jail officials were attending to the inmate, others in the housing unit began experiencing levels of opioid-related symptoms. Santa Barbara County emergency medical service personnel arrived to the jail to begin evaluating and transporting inmates experiencing opioid use symptoms. In total, 15 inmates and five deputies were treated for symptoms related to opioid exposure, according to the county.

Jail personnel escorted the remaining inmates from the housing unit, and then began decontaminating and searching the area. During their investigation, officials found heroin within the housing unit. The Sheriff’s Office is still investigating how the drugs were smuggled into the facility, as well as how the widespread exposure occurred. 

Earlier this year, the Santa Barbara County grand jury released a report on the prevalence of illegal drugs and alcohol found inside the county jail. Although the report states that there haven’t been any drug overdose deaths recorded since an inmate died of a heroin overdose in 2009, two inmates were treated for drug overdoses in January of this year. 

“Now, over nine years later, this challenging situation has remained the same,” the report states. “Indeed, one experienced custody officer the jury interviewed candidly observed that in the last few years the contraband problem actually worsened.” 




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