Drug overdose-related calls in unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County jumped in 2020 compared to the two previous years, according to data provided by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2018, according to the data, deputies responded to a total of four calls; that number increased slightly the following year to a total of six calls. By the end of 2020, it had tripled to 19 drug overdose calls.

The local increase corresponds with a similar national trend, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which reported that there were more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in May 2020 – a 38.4-percent increase from the  12-month period leading up to June 2019. 

In a December 2020 news release, the CDC attributed the increase to the instability brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead, Sheriff David Hathaway said his department is already working on an effort to try to prevent more overdose-related calls in Santa Cruz County.

“I have instructed Sheriff’s Office personnel to be on the lookout for persons who are displaying signs of severe depression and who may benefit from outreach by community partners,” Hathaway told the NI in an email, adding that local residents should also keep an eye out for “for persons displaying signs of self-destructive behavior.”

As for opioid-related overdoses, he said, Detective Joe Bunting is certified to train all personnel at the Sheriff’s Office on administering Naloxone, also known as Narcan, a nasal spray used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.

“Time is of the essence for effective use of Narcan, and Sheriff’s Office personnel are trained to be aware of the signs of drug overdose and to act quickly,” Hathaway said.

He added that, on Feb. 11, the Sheriff’s Office plans to launch a pilot program in collaboration with Community Medical Services that will provide local jail inmates with two training sessions on the proper use of Narcan during an overdose event. Upon release, inmates will be provided a Narcan treatment kit.

“Our hope is that the released inmates will be able to counteract the lethal effects of drug overdoses that occur in their presence after their release,” Hathaway said.

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