The No. 1 public well being emergency over the previous 14 months has, after all, been the coronavirus pandemic. However the opioid epidemic, which was raging lengthy earlier than most of us heard of COVID-19, hasn’t gone away.

In Sonoma County, amongst different locations, it has gotten worse.

Opioids are highly effective painkillers with model names like Vicodin and Percocet that medical doctors prescribe for severe accidents or end-of-life palliative care. The issue is that they’re extremely addictive. And when folks get hooked, they typically flip to unlawful medicine akin to fentanyl, an particularly potent artificial opioid that’s driving a spike in native overdose deaths.

In a sobering report printed Sunday, Workers Author Nashelly Chavez particulars the North Bay’s fentanyl epidemic, its tragic repercussions for native households and the burden on substance-abuse counselors and regulation enforcement officers.

“It’s gripped this nation,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Brian Boettger advised Chavez. “It’s the focus of most of our investigations.”

Fentanyl is usually blended with different medicine, so folks could not know there are taking it. But even small quantities could be deadly.

In 2017, two folks died of fentanyl overdoses in Sonoma County. The quantity climbed to 6 in 2019. Final yr, it shot as much as 29.

Fentanyl was detected together with different medicine in 12 deadly overdoses in Sonoma County in 2017. By final yr, that determine was 80, an nearly sevenfold improve in simply 4 years.

The numbers by themselves are grim. However a per capita comparability with different California counties illustrates the scope of the native opioid disaster: In 2019, Sonoma County ranked third among the many 58 counties for fentanyl-related overdose deaths, trailing solely San Francisco and Mendocino.

With the social isolation and financial instability which have accompanied the coronavirus, persons are experiencing a substantial amount of stress. Varied surveys point out that drug abuse is up, so it isn’t completely stunning that overdose-related deaths elevated in 2020.

However the development already was established, domestically and on the nationwide degree.

The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention reported an unprecedented 81,000 drug overdose deaths in america between Might 2019 and Might 2020, a 12-month interval that included solely a short overlap with the pandemic. About 70% of overdose deaths are opioid-related, in line with the CDC.

Police and prosecutors are centered on producers and traffickers. Sonoma County District Legal professional Jill Ravitch’s workplace obtained a $340,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Division to assist with opioid-related circumstances.

A supply-side method is essential, however it solely goes up to now. It’s additionally obligatory to cut back demand.

President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan contains $1.5 billion for remedy of substance abuse — cash that may help neighborhood organizations just like the Santa Rosa Therapy Program, which provides opioid customers counseling and methadone — which reduces cravings for illicit medicine like fentanyl.

Different potential options embody bettering administration packages for continual ache so folks may be much less more likely to self-medicate, and requiring that well being plans embody abuse-deterrent opioids, akin to delayed-release tablets, of their formularies. Additionally essential is eradicating the stigma of habit, so persons are much less reticent to achieve out for assist.

The coronavirus development traces are pointing in the best course: infections are down, vaccinations are up and, except issues change dramatically, most of California’s restrictions will likely be passed by mid- June.

However we should keep centered on our different public well being emergency: opioid abuse. Lives rely on it.

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