Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride) prevented more than 400 OD deaths countywide in 2020. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Nationwide, the number of overdose deaths accelerated markedly during the COVID pandemic, and in Santa Barbara County, the overdose numbers are in keeping with this trend. Last week, Sheriff Bill Brown told the Board of Supervisors that 114 people killed themselves with drug overdoses last year — either accidentally or on purpose. The year before that, the number was 80. Of those, 40 were determined to be accidental. 

Brown added that his deputies helped save 26 overdose victims this past year by administering emergency injections of Narcan, a drug that reverses an opiate’s ability to shut the body down. In the same hearing, the supervisors heard Alice Gleghorn, director of County Department of Behavioral Wellness, that in the past year, 416 potential overdose deaths had been reversed countywide with the Narcan applications. Gleghorn stressed that number did not include the doses administered by all the various first responders, so this past year’s numbers are even higher. Parenthetically, Gleghorn noted, 1,136 lives have been saved from death by overdose since 2016. 

Epidemiologists studying overdose trends have suggested social distancing requirements triggered by the pandemic have led to an increase in the number of individuals taking dangerous drugs alone, thus increasing the risk of overdose. On top of that, drug dealers are mixing in cheaper, more dangerous compounds, such as fentanyl, considerably stronger than heroin. Additionally, many drug rehab programs have either shut down totally or partially as a result of the pandemic.

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