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How Bad is the California Opioid Crisis

“We prescribe enough opioids every year to kill every Californian more than twice” – Dr. Kelly Pfeifer, California HealthCare Foundation in Oakland California

With overdose deaths continuing to soar, a group of law enforcement agents, treatment providers, public policymakers, and physicians gathered in San Diego to discuss and address the opioid crisis in California this last November.

National Public Health Emergency

In early November of this past year, President Trump declared that the opioid crisis that has been ravaging the nation was deemed a National Public Health Emergency. Two weeks later, the second California Opioid Policy Summit took place.

In nationwide standards, the opioid crisis in California actually ranks lower on the list for overall drug death rates, especially in comparison to states like West Virginia and New Hampshire, but some experts warn that in certain counties in California, the overdose rates are actually higher than the national average.

Opioids Vs. Fentanyl

In 2016, California reported at least 1,925 deaths that were specifically opioid-related. Out of those deaths, at least 234 of them were fentanyl deaths, and in total, San Diego County made up 12% of that average alone.

One thing that has shown some progress among policymakers is that prescribing practices have improved somewhat. For example,

We are starting to see a bending down in the curve of overdoses and deaths (prescription opioid-related) – however, that’s entirely made up by a decrease in prescribing practices. At the same time, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of fentanyl and heroin-associated overdoses and deaths.” – Dr. Karen Smith, director of California Department of Public Health

With the restriction on prescription opioids in the fight against the opioid crisis in California, Mexican cartels have begun to fill the void with artificially made fentanyl and carfentanil. This drug is extremely potent, can kill in very small amounts, and has been used as cutting agents and even made to look like oxycodone pills.

Many of the people who are looking to buy oxy or heroin on the street are actually purchasing fentanyl unknowingly, which leads to an accidental overdose.

someone self-medicating with pills
Are Opioids Over-Prescribed?

Many people who are now struggling with an opioid or heroin addiction were originally prescribed them, legally, by a doctor. Many younger people became addicted after wisdom teeth surgery or broken bones from sports injuries in school. So should we be taking a deeper look at how necessary prescription painkillers really are?

  • A recent study was released showing that OTC painkillers such as Tylenol and Motrin did just as well in the emergency room for patients who were suffering from broken bones and sprains.
  • There is a new push to move away from methadone clinics, where primary care doctors will now be allowed to prescribe Suboxone to help addicts manage opioid addiction.
  • California experienced more than 4,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015
  • Trinity County, CA has a population of 13,628 people, in 2016, its residents filled prescriptions for opioid drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, 18,439 times.
  • California residents aged 15-29 received 1.7 million opioid prescriptions in 2016, which represents 7.2 percent of the California state total.

What Is Being Done?

After President Trump’s declaration of the national health emergency, the administration has allocated $485 million nationwide to aid in the fight against the opioid crisis in California and everywhere else. California has been given a $45 million share from that allowance, and so far, most of the money has been deemed to go towards medication-assisted treatment options such as Narcan, Suboxone, etc.

Some state legislators have made attempts to create new policies that would possibly be even more effective in the fight again the opioid epidemic, but these efforts have largely gone unnoticed.

For example, California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, proposed the state would levy a fee on opioid manufacturers. This fee would have the potential to generate an additional near $90 million that would have gone towards treatment and prevention efforts. However, the bill did not advance.

So far, one of the most agreed-upon areas of improvement in the fight against the opioid crisis in California is increased education and awareness for providers about the dangers of opioid medications and protocols on safe prescribing methods. There is currently a bill in the legislature to get statewide standards enforced, but that bill has yet to pass as well.

What’s the Hold-Up?

Many have shown gratitude that the Trump administration and statewide legislators have noticed and begun speaking about the opioid crisis in California and the rest and the nation, but it has also been noticed that not much else has been done around it.

So many people are calling for change, but so far, the greatest option most lawmakers have is to increase funding around medication-assisted treatment options, aka, replacing one addiction with another.

The real issue here is, why are these prescription medications still being so freely produced by pharmaceutical companies, why are they not being taxed at all, and why are we so quick, as a country, to just hand a mentally sick person another addictive medication?

There is a lot that ties into all of this, not to mention the new issue of people not having adequate insurance coverage, meaning their chances of receiving proper inpatient substance abuse treatment will pretty much go to the wind.

Get The Help You Need ASAP

With that being said, if you or a loved one have been affected by the opioid crisis in California, or anywhere else in the United States, there is still time to get help. Medical Detoxes around the nation provide safe, nurturing environments for substance abuse and opioid addiction treatments.

Not to mention, there are 12 step fellowships such as AA and NA and even Heroin Anonymous around the country that are always ready to lend out a helping hand. Recovery is possible.