Narcan kits will be placed in high schools as part of Santa Clara County plan
(BCN) — For a Santa Clara County supervisor, battling fentanyl addiction is personal. About a year ago, Supervisor Otto Lee lost a 29-year-old cousin to an overdose. Lee describes him as bright and energetic.
“It’s just very sad,” he told San Jose Spotlight. “It was truly an awakening moment for me.” Fentanyl-related deaths in Santa Clara County have risen from 11 in 2018 to 132 in 2021, county data shows. In September, 97 people died from fentanyl overdoses, putting this year on track for a new record high. San Jose has accounted for the majority of fentanyl-related deaths in the county over the past two years: 100 of 132 in 2021 and 61 of 97 so far in 2022.
Lee wonders if Narcan’s availability could have saved his cousin’s life. Also known as Naloxone, Narcan can restore normal breathing in someone who overdosed on opioids.
“We can do so much more for families and the community,” he said. “I’m extremely passionate about it, especially because of this incident… It’s so powerful and dangerous. It is so important that we dedicate our resources to help.
Lee said fentanyl has flooded the community — from homeless camps to high schools — because the drug is potent and inexpensive to manufacture. He said a small dose can make someone very high or kill them.
The growing number of fentanyl overdoses in Santa Clara County has motivated the board of oversight to step up prevention measures.
In January, supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Lee declared a public health crisis due to mental illness and substance abuse and instructed the county to create a plan to meet treatment needs. At an Oct. 18 board meeting, supervisors voted unanimously to increase the county’s Department of Behavioral Health Services budget by $4.6 million for mental health and rehabilitation programs. substance addiction.
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Supervisor Cindy Chavez requested that a formal request be made to the state for the Narcan kits. She wants to research where Narcan nasal spray kits can be purchased.
“We want to make sure that we make these resources available to people in our community,” Chavez said.
County plans to distribute free Narcan kits through vending machines placed in prisons, courts buildings, high schools, colleges, hospitals, bars and restaurants. The first three booths will be placed at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, Elmwood Correctional Facility and Juvenile Hall. The details of how this will work have yet to be determined.
The county also wants to make fentanyl test strips more available throughout the community. Fentanyl test strips can detect traces of it in other drugs.
Ellenberg said adding Narcan and fentanyl test strip vending machines to prisons is a small but important step toward increased access to overdose prevention tools. She wants more of these “vital tools” to be accessible in communities where people use drugs.
Santa Clara County has budgeted $130,000 to $140,000 to provide Narcan kits to all high schools, Lee said.
“The dollar amount is frankly minimal compared to the benefits,” Lee said. “Every life we save is priceless… It could be our neighbours’ children or your own children… I am very, very worried.” County Behavioral Health Services is partnering with the Public Health Department to distribute fentanyl test strips and Narcan kits to homeless residents. About 2,000 overdose kits have been distributed over the past two years. Lee said Santa Clara County wants to provide an inpatient drug rehabilitation center for homeless people, as well as supportive housing and job training.
In addition to hospitals offering medical detox beds for people with complex medical conditions, Pathways, a community-based organization, offers inpatient treatment and provides beds for patients recovering from substance use. The county has contracted 15 beds with the organization, but when visiting the facility last month, Lee was shocked to see a significant number of empty beds due to a lack of staff. The council has approved the hiring of three more workers by Pathways and is looking for additional suppliers.
Ellenberg said more rehab beds are urgently needed. “People are dying by suicide (from) unintentional overdoses,” she said. “These drugs are dangerous. What job could be more important than saving lives? »
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