by Photo courtesy of the office of Nathan Fletcher

An opioid legal settlement with Purdue Pharma leaves San Diego County elected officials and behavioral and public health experts to determine how to disperse upwards of $100 million to address the opioid epidemic in San Diego County.

Chair Fletcher, Supervisor Anderson, and County staff will hold three planning sessions: The planned dates are Aug. 10, Sept. 6th, and Sept. 7. These meetings will feature people "who interact with those who live with addiction, such as emergency room doctors, harm reduction advocates, and individuals with lived experience,'' a statement from Fletcher's office read.

San Diego County recorded 462 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2020, marking a 202% increase in one year from 151 recorded deaths in 2019. More than 1,000 San Diegans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2021, marking a 16 percent increase from the previous year. There has been a year-over-year increase for more than a decade.

“Sadly, many of our community members have lost loved ones to this epidemic. I am hopeful through investments by the County in addiction treatment and services we can prevent these tragedies,” shared Supervisor Anderson.

A hearing on the findings from these meetings will be held on Oct.4. Later that same month, Chair Fletcher and Supervisor Anderson will use the input received to present a plan to the Board of Supervisors for dispersing the funds. 

“In San Diego County over the last couple of years, this Board of Supervisors has been more aggressive, and is moving faster to strengthen our strategy and tactics to address the fentanyl and opioid crisis,” said Chair Fletcher. But there are still too many families who suffer a tragic loss of life because of addiction. The money from the settlement, if spent on best practices, will make our response even stronger, and help to save lives.”

 San Diego County is among the leading plaintiffs in legal action against Purdue — the manufacturer of Oxycontin. Fletcher first discussed the possible settlement funds during this year's State of San Diego County address.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten signed a Naloxone Standing Order in May 2021, allowing community organizations to distribute without a prescription to any person at risk of an overdose or to others able to assist and administer naloxone to a person suspected of experiencing an overdose. In December 2021, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 to move forward with several harm reduction drug treatment projects undertaken by the County’s Public and Behavioral Health Services. 

County’s Behavioral Health Director Dr. Luke Bergmann said, “we need to take care of addiction as normal and as accessible as any other kind of healthcare”. 

“This will mean heading in new directions and will require sources of revenue that allow for creativity and flexibility; the opportunity in these opioid settlement funds cannot be overstated,” Bergmann continued. 

Dr. Elizabeth Hernandez, director of the county's public health services, said she welcomes the acceleration of programs the funding could provide. 

“We have a public health crisis and our team is ready to sit down with the community and discuss how these opioid settlement funds can lead to new and innovative approaches to saving lives,'' she said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look for these signs to determine if someone you know has overdosed on opioids, fentanyl, or other drugs:

  •  Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin

Inpatient and outpatient treatment services provided by the County are available throughout the region that can help San Diegans with substance use disorders. People seeking help should call the San Diego County Access and Crisis Line at 888-724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego. Both resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

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