San Diego County to Expand Use of Drug Overdose Reversal Medication

San Diego County public health officials want to make naloxone, also known as narcan, more readily available as overdose-related deaths are climbing

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San Diego County public health officials signed an order Friday to allow community organizations to distribute a drug overdose reversal medication without a prescription to anyone at risk of overdosing.

Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten signed an order for the expansion of the medication – commonly known as Narcan.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said this is part of a policy passed earlier this year to strengthen the county’s focus on helping address addition “with existing best practices.”

To that end, one of the initiatives to help reach the goal set forth in the policy is to make naloxone more readily available to anyone in San Diego County – and without fear of liability to those who may need to administer it to someone in need.

According to the county, the order signed by Wooten will:

  • Allow community organizations to distribute without a prescription to any person at risk of an overdose or to a family member, friend, or another person able to assist.
  • Allow the administration of naloxone to a person suspected of experiencing an overdose by a family member, friend, or bystander.   

“Opioids in large doses can cause breathing problems and a loss of responsiveness that can lead to death,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten. “Naloxone saves lives by temporarily reversing those life-threatening effects until emergency medical help arrives.”

Friday’s ceremony also included a demo on how to use naloxone.

San Diego County will start allowing community organizations to distribute Narcan, a drug overdose reversal medication, without a prescription. NBC 7's Nicole Gomez explains.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Narcan is designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. The medication is an opioid antagonist that binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids.

The institute said the medication can “very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed of stopped as a result of overdosing.”

“If you spend time with someone who uses drugs or are a drug user, the county strongly encourages you to carry naloxone with you,” said Dr. Luke Bergmann, Director of Behavioral Health Services at the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, said last year.

The county has filed an application to receive a free supply of naloxone from the State Department of Health Care Services via its Naloxone Distribution Project. It is expected the first shipment could be delivered in June and it will be distributed to clients and patients through county clinics.  

The expansion of the medication in San Diego County comes as overdoses and overdose deaths have increased over the past year. The widespread availability of fentanyl is part of the problem.

Just this past Tuesday, eight inmates at George F. Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa were treated for overdoses of fentanyl – with Narcan. All survived, authorities said.

In November 2020, county public health officials released the 2020 San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force Report Card. The report card found the number of unintentional fentanyl-related deaths increased by 64% from 2018 to 2019, while prescription drug deaths increased by nearly 12%.

The report card also said that fentanyl – the synthetic opioid primarily coming from Mexico – is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fentanyl-related deaths in the United states were up 27% over the past year, during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC said that with a record 81,000 people overdosing during the nationwide lockdowns, 2020 is the deadliest year ever for drug overdoses in the U.S.

The county has inpatient and outpatient treatment services available throughout the region that can help San Diegans with substance use disorders. People seeking help should call the San Diego County Access and Crisis Line 888-724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego. Both resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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