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Drug Overdose Deaths Caused by Fentanyl Skyrocket in San Diego

a man holding a tiny plastic bag of fentanyl, a white powder substance in it

San Diego residents are struggling with opiate abuse and addiction, and it shows in the number of people lost to opiate overdose. Specifically, fentanyl is increasing the cause of drug overdose deaths in San Diego. Twenty-one people lost their lives due to the drug in 2015. In 2016, 33 people passed due to fentanyl overdose, and so far this year, 16 people have died due to exposure to the potent synthetic opioid.  

Dr. Aaron Schneir is a medical toxicologist at University of California at San Diego Health. He said: “It is very dangerous for the user, because they may die or have major complications before they get to a health care facility. They think it’s heroin, and it ends up being fentanyl. When you get too high of a dose, you decrease your respiratory drive, so you don’t breathe fast enough, and you can become unconscious.” 

With this latest threat to those who are struggling with drug addiction, it is likely that the steadily increasing rates of opiate overdose deaths will continue to rise in the coming years unless something can be done to (1) increase awareness and understanding of the risks of use of all opiate drugs among those who might otherwise develop an opiate addiction and (2) increase access to treatment for those who are living with opiate addiction.  

Fentanyl   

Fentanyl is a highly potent drug that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, or about 40 times more potent than heroin. A very small amount can have a huge effect. In fact, there have been cases of law enforcement officers coming into brief, skin contact with the drug and overdosing as a result. Without the immediate intervention of medical professionals with the drug naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of opiate withdrawal, they would have died.  

Because such a small amount can have such a large effect, most users who buy heroin or cocaine on the street do not realize that it is laced with fentanyl before it is too late. This can result in them taking their “usual” dose and then overdosing before they even have time to realize what happened. For them and for their families, it is a scary situation. Every day in addiction brings with it the risk of sudden death.  

What People Are Doing to Combat the Problem 

Government officials are working hard to determine how best to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the state of California and also how to manage the dissemination of naloxone among first responders and families alike. Similarly, the medical community is working to increase awareness and education among family physicians and other pain management specialists who may be prescribing addictive opiate medications to patients and inadvertently sponsoring the onset of a deadly addiction. Substance abuse treatment experts are also working to advocate for increased access to treatment services for individuals and families in crisis. 

Those individuals and families are also taking steps to protect themselves as they face addiction. For example, many in San Diego who are dealing with chronic pain are working hard to find alternative ways to manage the problem that do not include use or heavy use of addictive painkillers. Additionally, families who are concerned for their loved one’s risk of overdose are purchasing and learning how to use naloxone while also working hard to help them connect with the treatment they need to stop using drugs and alcohol entirely.  

What Can You Do to Help Your Loved One Avoid Fentanyl Overdose? 

Unfortunately, many active users of heroin believe that they are seasoned enough to be able to handle fentanyl-laced heroin and are not very concerned about the problem. Some even seek it out in hopes of getting a better high. Ultimately, their priority is avoiding the withdrawal symptoms that come with going too long in between doses, and if that means risking an overdose, many are willing to do what it takes.  

If your family member is living with an active addiction, you can play an active role in helping them to seek treatment by offering them the option of enrolling in rehab immediately and making it clear that you will no longer provide them with assistance that allows them to continue putting their life at risk.   

Is today the day you take a stand and have a serious discussion with your loved one about beginning treatment for addiction? 

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Laguna Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More