Santa Barbara County ranked sixth per capita in California in emergency room encounters for heroin overdoses, according to a new report from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. San Luis Obispo County was fourth. What’s more, the report indicates such cases are increasing at a faster rate in these neighboring counties. Last year, 65 individuals were treated and released at a Santa Barbara hospital — a tenfold jump in the last decade. S.L.O.’s numbers increased by 14 times in the same time frame.
This news comes at a time when the price of naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, reportedly rose to as much as 17 times its original cost. As heroin takes an unprecedented number of lives nationwide, the demand for the drug has gone up.
Like an EpiPen, Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, can be administered by injection into a patient’s muscle by IV, or — increasingly popular — by a nasal spray. “It saves lives,” said Jimmy Dane, a Santa Barbara paramedic. The drug functions like a slap across the face, almost as though a patient immediately experienced a withdrawal. Dane looks for small pupils and abnormally slow respiration. “It’s usually obvious,” he said. “Any hunch it’s an overdose, we’ll give this immediately.” If the person is not actually overdosing, naloxone is harmless.
In 2015, paramedics gave naloxone 195 times in Santa Barbara County, though outcomes were unavailable by press time. How often Dane finds himself administering the drug ebbs and flows, particularly when a bad batch of heroin comes through town. He estimated that he personally administers three to four doses on average each month, most commonly in downtown Santa Barbara. Isla Vista, he noted, is “not as common as you’d think.” Naloxone is available, though, at UCSB, among various other places. Two years ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing the drug to be purchased at pharmacies, and now caregivers or family members who have been trained can administer the drug.
Earlier this year, county’s drug and alcohol department purchased roughly 225 overdose prevention kits to distribute anywhere an overdose might occur, such as the jail, narcotic treatment, family service facilities, and homeless shelters. The total cost was $25,000. “We can never have enough,” said John Doyel, the county’s alcohol and drug czar.