OCREGISTER: Address drug abuse

Submission Date: July 17th, 2016
Attributing Author: Orange County Register Editorial
Source: The Orange County Register (www.ocregister.com)

With fatal drug overdoses at a 10-year high in O.C., it is important to take the time to reevaluate our approach to drug abuse and tackle the harms of such abuse through evidence-based practices proven to save lives.

According to reporting by the Register, at least 400 people lost their lives last year due to drug overdoses. More than two-thirds of the overdoses last year were tied to opioids.

Given the tremendous stigma around drug use and abuse, it is often too difficult for people with substance abuse problems to reach out for help. Ingrained and institutionalized attitudes against drug use have in turn left few resources beyond the criminal justice system to actually assist those in need.

Fortunately, this has slowly begun to shift in O.C. Some county sheriff’s deputies have begun to carry naloxone, a drug which can be administered via injection or nasal spray and reverse opioid overdoses. Communities across the country have proven that equipping police and other first-responders with naloxone can save lives.

In light of the growing trend of fatal overdoses, it is imperative that this become the norm in O.C. But beyond police and first-responders, it is vital that at-risk populations be given greater access to the drug in the first place.

Towards this end, the Solace Foundation of Orange County, founded by Aimee Dunkle and Margie Fleitman, who each lost a child to drug overdoses, have actively distributed hundreds of naloxone kits that have revived over 100 people from overdoses. The group has run low on their supply of naloxone, but recently received 200 naloxone nasal spray kits from Adapt Pharma, which should last about five weeks, according to Ms. Dunkle.

“The most important thing is providing it to the most vulnerable,” said Ms. Dunkle. “It’s about opening dialogue with those with active drug users.”

The Solace Foundation works together with the Orange County Needle Exchange Program, started in February as the county’s first and only program where injection drug users may turn in used needles for clean ones. The program operates on Saturdays at 12 p.m. in the plaza behind City Hall in Santa Ana.

Such programs have proven effective in cities like San Francisco and countries like Taiwan to not only reduce the risk of chronic, communicable diseases like hepatitis and HIV, but also to connect drug users to social services and drug treatment.

But the Solace Foundation and the OCNEP can’t do it alone. There must be a greater effort in the county to address the harms of drug abuse before more fatalities occur.

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