Source: Public Health Department
The California Department of Public Health has released 2018 county-level data on emergency room (ER) visits and preliminary deaths related to drugs, including opioids. Since 2010, Santa Barbara County has had a higher rate of non-fatal ER visits associated with drugs when compared to the state average. Recently released figures confirm that this trend continues, with 648 non-fatal drug-related ER visits recorded during 2018 among Santa Barbara County residents. The rate of ER visits related to opioids has increased by over 55% from 2010 to 2018 in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, in 2018 there were 69 drug-related deaths with nearly half, 31 deaths, related to opioids among Santa Barbara County residents.
A trend has also emerged in recent years, with a greater percentage of opioid overdose deaths found to be related to the synthetic opioid, fentanyl. In 2018, 29% of opioid overdose deaths were related to fentanyl (up from 9% in 2015). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the United States are linked to illegally made fentanyl that may be unknowingly mixed with other drugs.
The fight locally against the opioid epidemic must be rooted in evidence-based strategies that are tailored to the needs of those experiencing a substance abuse disorder. It is for this reason, that the Public Health Department strongly encourages both medical providers and community members to consider harm reduction strategies.
“Recent drug overdose trends in Santa Barbara County are concerning. Rates of ED visits for drug overdoses, including opioids, are higher in Santa Barbara County than California. The most critical interventions to prevent future overdoses are local harm reduction strategies and substance use disorder treatment programs that provide medications for opioid use disorder. In order to address drug overdoses in the community, the Public Health Department will continue to work collaboratively with community partners,” shared Senior Epidemiologist, Joy Kane.
Fully engaging harm reduction strategies can help our county begin to address opioid addiction and overdose death in our community. Strategies include Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which combines medications and behavioral therapy to treat substance use disorders and prevent opioid overdose, needle-exchange programs, promotion of fentanyl testing strips, and greater access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversing medication.
On the eve of International Overdose Awareness Day, happening August 31, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is committed to working with community partners to ensure these trends do not continue.