John Doyel, director of substance abuse programs for the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara County will be participating in a new federal program designed to effectively bribe low-income methamphetamine users off drugs by offering them stipends and vouchers worth $600 — over a six-month period — if they test negative. The new program should start sometime this fall, said John Doyel, director of substance abuse programs for the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness, assuming the county qualifies. 

“I would say the number one problem we’re seeing right now is the combination of fentanyl and meth,” said Doyel. “It’s the new speedball. Severe uppers mixed with severe downers.” 

Santa Barbara now finds itself in the throes of the opioid crisis’s fourth wave. While fentanyl is by far the deadliest, Doyel cautioned, meth deaths are on the rise. Last year, the number of meth-related deaths hovered around 25, he said. 

The victims tend to be on the older side, north of 40. Many are also homeless people who take meth to stay up at night to better protect themselves and their possessions. 

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For people addicted to opioids, Doyel added, there are medications to help weather withdrawal. But for meth, he said, no such medications exist, and the white-knuckled journey undertaken by recovering meth users involves “a real crash and serious clinical depression.” 

To provide some modicum of reward for users, California — through Medi-Cal — is embarking on a new voucher program for those who can test negative. 

“We just signed a letter of intent to participate a couple weeks ago,” Doyel said. 

In addition, Doyel’s department is distributing free fentanyl test strips to county meth users so they can determine if the drugs they are taking are laced with fentanyl and take the proper precautions. Increasingly, he said, it is.

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