County Coalition drug report card reveals record number of opioid deaths

SAN DIEGO —┬áThe San Diego County Prescription Drug Task Force and a group of local political and law enforcement leaders released the task force’s annual report card Friday, showing increases in deaths due to prescription drugs and the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The county report found that 273 San Diego residents died due to prescription drug overdoses, an 8 percent increase over the 253 deaths in 2016, and fentanyl deaths spiked 155 percent from 33 in 2016 to 84 in 2017. Heroin deaths dropped by five percent, from 91 in 2016 to 86 in 2017.

“Prescription drug abuse is an equal opportunity killer and can affect anyone, crossing socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender and age,” said County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who joined the task force at the release. “The fact is, unintentional drug-related deaths continue to rise.”

The death tolls due to prescription drugs and fentanyl were record highs in San Diego County. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is roughly 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

“We have seen a steady increase in fatal overdose cases over the years where fentanyl has been added to opiates,” County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner said.

Gaspar and the task force detailed the county’s plan to use a community-driven approach to reduce prescription drug and opioid dependence. The county plans to partner with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney Summer Stephan, the Safe Homes Coalition and the San Diego Association of Realtors to fight drug abuse issues. Residents can also call the county’s access and crisis hotline at (888) 724-7240.

The report came on the eve of the county’s participation in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 27. The county will offer prescription drug disposal services at 44 sites. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Admnistration, local law enforcement officers and local organizations will assist the county in collecting unused, expired and unwanted pills from county residents.

“Prescription drug abuse is a critical issue that impacts more than 6 million American families and children,” the San Diego Association of Realtors said in a statement. “With more than 20,000 members throughout the County of San Diego, SDAR is well-positioned serve as regional leader for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.”