Just like the rest of the country, California is caught in an epidemic. Heroin overdose in California is like a runaway freight train. It’s hurtling ahead faster and ever more recklessly, which it will do without check until it wrecks.
Oh, wait a minute—the worst is happening right now. The train has already devastated thousands of lives. KCRA television broadcasting out of Davis not long ago told the story of Michael Baxter, who got his introduction to heroin through a seemingly harmless blunt that was, unfortunately, laced with heroin. The statistics for heroin overdose in California tell us that thousands of people have died since 2013, which was when Michael overdosed…for the last time.
When you try to look at statistics for heroin overdose in California, the figures are always skewed by the date the last set of data became available. But for heroin poisonings in Sacramento County alone, there were 3 in 2010, 6 in 2011, and 13 in 2012. Heroin hospitalizations have rapidly escalated in the same geographic area, increasing from 8 in 2011, to 9 in 2012, to 19 in 2013. The police in Davis say they conducted one heroin-related investigation way back in 2012, and by 2014 the number was at least 14—in Davis, Yolo County, alone. Two years later, looking at heroin overdose in California, we still lack access to verified real-time figures. But we do know the statistics just keep rising.
In a story related to Baxter’s death, KCRA reported that thousands have died of heroin overdose in California over a three-year period. In the case of Baxter, once he became addicted his struggle lasted for over a decade. He had his ups and downs: He stayed clean for a year. Then, the year before he died, he saw his girlfriend, Sammie, die from an overdose.
Baxter’s and Sammie’s parents wanted to speak publicly about their children’s deaths because they want other people to learn. They want to make the noise that’s necessary so that more methadone programs will become accessible to those who need them. Otherwise, statistics for heroin overdose in California will just continue to rise.
Stories like theirs are heard across the nation. In Ohio, there was young Marin Riggs, a beautiful young woman from an economically sound family, found by her father. She had collapsed on the bathroom, dead of an overdose. Her mom talks about the journal she kept, in which she wrote: “Dear Heroin: Before I met you I was full of life…I would steal and cheat for you…” She swore she had become heroin’s worst enemy, but heroin got her in the end.
Cassandra Nicole West was only 19 when she hanged herself in a suicide pact with her boyfriend. Like Michael Baxter and Marin Riggs, she had her ups and downs with addiction. Her mother tried the tough love approach and banned her from the family home for a while. In her suicide note, she wrote, “I’m tired of drugs. They won.”
Naloxone for Heroin Overdose in California
Who knows what the statistics for heroin overdose in California would be without the availability of Narcan? Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, is a drug that can be injected when somebody has overdosed. It literally brings them back from the brink of death. According to statistics made available by the CDC, over 10,000 lives have been saved by this drug.
California is one of 28 states that have moved forward in making naloxone accessible to people who suffer from addiction. It’s one of 17 states that protect those licensed to prescribe, dispense, or administer naloxone. It’s one of 14 states that have approved the writing of standing orders at facilities with a population at high-risk for heroin overdose.
Increasing numbers of heroin overdose in California resulted in the passage of AB 635, legislation that authorizes any facility for adults staffed by licensed prescribers to maintain kits containing two doses of naloxone as well as nasal infusers and other equipment in the event that a client becomes unconscious from an overdose. Facilities that do not have a licensed prescriber on hand can contract with a sympathetic prescriber to provide this service. California is one of only eight states that authorize the administration of naloxone by civil servants including firemen and policemen.
The law specifically protects licensed physicians or nurses from civil prosecution if they administer naloxone and the patient dies anyway. The law does not address the culpability of the average person—say a nursing assistant or monitor who might be on duty at a shelter when an overdose occurs. However, according to Peter Davidson from the University of California Davis, “We’ve given out thousands of naloxone doses in the last few years alone [without] a case of someone suing someone.”
According to Davidson, the death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman in February 2014 drove home the need for making naloxone accessible. Families can approach their doctors about take-home prescriptions of naloxone, to get a device approved by the FDA known as Evzio. It’s a portable naloxone injection kit that’s easy to use. It’s a vital medication to keep in the household of a recovering addict since addicts are so vulnerable if they relapse. Being in treatment can change a person’s tolerance of opiates. Consider the addict who previously did 5 or 10 mg per day and goes into treatment. The person doesn’t use any heroin for a while and then relapses. If he or she uses the same 5-10 mg that they previously would inject, their system would no longer be used to that dose, and they could easily die.
A United States senator from Texas, Michael Burgess, who practiced medicine before he went to Washington, is concerned with statistics on heroin overdose everywhere—California, Texas, and throughout the country. He is pushing to make it available as an over-the-counter drug so that anyone can buy it if the worst happens or if they fear the worst will happen. Dr. Marvin Seppala of the renowned Hazelden Clinic supports this measure. There is no pending legislation, but he has asked the FDA to explain why they can’t make it more readily available. The FDA says it will “get back to him.” Yeah, the check’s in the mail.
Look Around You
It’s sad and frightening to read stories about people who have died in the path of the runaway train, in the battle to beat addiction. But look around you: There are success stories out there, too. Those stories belong to the people who pass you in the hallways at your methadone treatment program. They are the people who sit beside you in group and shake your hand at a 12-step meeting.
Do don’t be afraid. Stand back from the train as it rushes by. Even though you can only take it one day at a time, you don’t have to be one of the heroin statistics in California. You can live and love and create a better life for yourself and the people you care about. If you haven’t started your recovery yet, make a phone call today.