Many continue to struggle with substance use disorders (SUDs) throughout the state of California, with the rate of overdoses skyrocketing. Although this is a growing problem throughout the country, when this is happening in many individuals’ backyards, emotions begin hitting a little closer to home.
Many may have personal experiences surrounding SUD and overdose, whether it be through their personal experiences or experiences with loved ones. Understanding more about the overdose rates in California and being educated on how individuals can help reduce the effects of this epidemic goes a long way toward helping those struggling with addiction by finding them the assistance they need to begin the path to recovery.
Rates of Overdose in the State of California
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the United States experienced 67,367 deaths due to drug overdose in 2018. While this was 4.1% lower than in 2017, it is still too many lives lost to this deathly disease. Of those, 70% were from opioid substance use. The study also indicates that overdose deaths related to opioids, especially synthetic opioids, are on a steady rise.
Specifically, in California, 45% of overdose deaths were attributed to opioid use. This has become even more cause for concern with the rise of fentanyl use. In fact, fentanyl has become the culprit of many overdose deaths.
Drug dealers are cutting their substances with fentanyl as a means of increasing their profits. Many do not realize this. They use a substance without realizing it has been laced with a deadly drug. Individuals who frequently use substances may develop a gauge of how much their bodies can handle. Taking that same amount that is laced with fentanyl significantly increases the chance of experiencing an overdose.
The Rise of Overdoses Amidst COVID-19
When COVID-19 first hit in March of 2020, millions of people were without mental health care for a substantial amount of time. Despite the world shutting down, fentanyl became more available. Whether or not individuals knew what they were purchasing, this accessibility caused a spike in the rates of overdose deaths, a spike that continued throughout 2021.
Aside from the access to fentanyl, isolation was a major contributing factor to this increase in overdoses. Many people began using substances alone. This increased the number of unobserved overdoses that were occurring. Just because people use substances together does not mean it is not a problem, but at least there are others around to recognize the signs of overdose and call for help if they are coherent.
Many people turned to substance use for the first time because of the pandemic. Feelings of despair, anxiety, and depression were at an all-time high. Without access to mental health services or the proper treatment, some began to self-medicate.
Individuals already seeking treatment for their substance or mental health disorders were set back in their treatment. Especially individuals who were newly seeking treatment around February and March. With so many clinics or facilities closing or reducing hours, there was no one to turn to for help. A single lapse during that timeframe sparked a series of relapses, or even worse, death by overdose.
California’s Response to the Drug Epidemic
The state of California has been trying to combat the drug epidemic for years through education and programs. One program is the expansion of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes as “the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorder.”
MAT is proven to be clinically effective in reducing the “need for inpatient detoxification services,” and is more individualized to patients. Launched in 2017, The California MAT Expansion Project is focused on increasing access to MAT and ultimately reducing the number of deaths by overdose.
Another program important program the state has focused on is the Naloxone Distribution Project (NDP). Naloxone is a medication that quickly counters the effects of opioid overdose. It is frequently administered by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) upon responding to an overdose, especially a fentanyl overdose.
The NDP is focused on increasing access to naloxone in an attempt to reduce the rates of deaths by opioid overdose. The program has been successful in terms of how many lives have been saved. There is, however, much more work to be done to significantly reduce the number of overdose deaths in California and across the country.
What Can We Do to Reduce Overdose Rates in California?
In truth, the biggest way individuals can reduce the rates of overdose across the country is by encouraging people to seek treatment. The road to recovery is difficult, but always worth it. By educating friends, family members, and neighbors on the harmful effects of substance use, individuals can begin to encourage others to seek treatment.
It is also important to come up with a way to offer more access to quality mental health care and addiction treatment programs. It is only through the path to recovery that individuals can begin to reduce these numbers.
The rates of overdose deaths in the state of California have fluctuated for decades, but have continued to rise in recent years. These numbers rose exponentially through the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to isolation and lack of quality health care, more individuals experienced relapse, turned to substance use alone, and ultimately died due to overdose. California has taken initiatives to reverse the increasing rates of overdose for years. That includes their MAT Expansion Project and their Naloxone Distribution Project, which prioritizes increasing access to naloxone, a medication that can immediately reverse the effects of an overdose. Programs like these have helped to save countless lives, but as a society, we need to focus on how we can offer more quality mental health care to individuals. If you are suffering from SUD, prevent the risk of overdose by seeking treatment at the Lakehouse Recovery Center. Call (877) 762-3707 today.