A sheriff's deputy holds a dose of Narcan, a drug that reverses the often-lethal effects of an opioid overdose. | Credit: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

Last year, 168 people died from drug overdoses in Santa Barbara County; of those, 115 were killed by fentanyl. The year before that, there were 133 overdose deaths, of which 78 were fentanyl induced. The year before that — in 2020 — the number was 113 overall overdose deaths with only 37 being caused by fentanyl. In other words, in the past two years, the number of fentanyl-related deaths increased by nearly 300 percent. These numbers come courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Tracking the number of close calls that were narrowly averted because of the application of Narcan has been the county’s Department of Emergency Services. In 2022, EMS reported that there were 374 instances of either “obvious death” or overdose poisonings in which the subjects were given Narcan. The year before that, the number was 344. But in 2020, there were 199, and in 2019, 182. Between 2014 and 2019, 376 people died from opioid overdoses; of those, only 44 died from fentanyl.

The rise in these numbers reflects not just the number of actual overdose incidents but also the extent to which public safety agencies responded to the opioid crisis and embraced the use of Narcan. To date, 323 public safety personnel across six agencies have been trained in the use of Narcan and 413 two-spray pack units have been distributed among their ranks. Since 2019, 1,132 overdose patients to whom Narcan had been administered were transported via ambulance to the nearest hospital. Sixty-five refused transport. These numbers, it should be stressed, include all overdoses, not just cases caused by fentanyl. 

Sheriff Bill Brown took pains to praise Narcan in a press statement as a “harmless, yet miraculous” antidote to opioid overdoses. Brown, leading a community-wide campaign known as Project Opioid, is hosting a free Narcan distribution program out of the Sheriff’s Office HQ (4434 Calle Real) plus the Carpinteria and Santa Maria substations. No personal information need be divulged to obtain a free sample. Fentanyl is dramatically more potent than heroin and more traditional opioids and is also laced liberally in just about all illegal drugs. As a result, free fentanyl test kits are also being distributed, though elsewhere.


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