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According to the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office, there have been 16 drug overdose deaths so far this year — which is actually down, in comparison to this time last year.
That doesn’t mean overdoses have dwindled.
City Ambulance says they respond to about 12 opioid overdoses per week, and the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction has a self-reported list of more than a hundred overdoses this year. On top of that, there are many overdoses that go unreported.
So is the problem really subsiding, or are we just managing it better?
In this LoCO Video Report we continue our exploration into the opioid overdose epidemic, as part of Overdose Awareness Day, which is on Thursday.
City Ambulance is the 911 emergency medical service provider from Eureka down to the Mendocino County line. Jaison Chand is the chief operating officer and has worked for the company for 24 years. He says overdose calls currently make up three- to five-percent of the call volume.
“The most common scenario is we get there and the person is breathing, but very slowly,” he says. “And it’s usually illegal drug use — heroin in this area.”
In these circumstances, Chand says, when EMS arrives naloxone, the opioid antidote, is usually not present. Meaning the person calling did not have the reversal drug readily available. Which is actually rare these days, because over the past year and half the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (known as “HACHR”) has been a driving force for increasing naloxone distribution throughout Humboldt County — an increase of 900% just last year.
Executive director Brandie Wilson says, “Traditionally it had been like 40 to 60 kits distributed. But we worked really hard, wrote a lot of grants and really tried to make sure people had access. We distributed about a 1,000 last year and we’ve already hit about 2,000 this year, and that’s all through grants and hard work.”
Naloxone comes in a vial. It’s administered by needle under the brand name “Evzio,” which is an auto injector, or the more commonly refereed to “Narcan,” which is the name-brand nasal spray.
HACHR says it’s distributed the life-saving drug to gas stations, motels, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, the department of health, and to community members through peer volunteers and local officials. It also distributes out of its own office.
And although Chand says overdose calls to City Ambulance have been relatively steady over the past five years, its numbers are only a sliver of the opioid overdose epidemic.
“We’ve always had a level of opioid overdoses in the county, but about five or six years ago we started to see a significant increase in heroin use and that’s stayed pretty steady over the last five years, at least as far as EMS response goes,” he says. “But there’s a large percentage of patients that we don’t ever see now that Narcan is available out in the community.”
That’s right — people in the community are taking opioid overdose reversals into their own hands now more than ever.
Wilson says “This year alone our organization has had over 125 self-reported overdose reversals, so we’ve had 125 overdoses that have been reversed from friends, family members or peers carrying naloxone.”
HACHR says they hope to continue to provide naloxone to the community, but it’s not cheap. Wilson says Evzio can cost between $2,400 to $4,000. So the organization is currently working on additional grants to get funding for this highly expensive but highly demanded life saving product.
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