As the nation works to get control of COVID-19, public health officials continue battling another deadly epidemic that officials say is showing no signs of slowing down in Pasadena and across the country: drug overdoses.
Monday marked International Overdose Awareness Day, established in 2001 to raise awareness about the issue and reduce the stigma associated with discussing the subject, according to the organization.
“It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose,” IOAD organizers said in a written statement. “International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that overdose death is preventable. Thousands of people die each year from drug overdose. They come from all walks of life.”
Pasadena Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Sell said the problem has hit the local community hard.
“Overdose, specifically on opioids, accounts for over 450 deaths annually within Los Angeles County,” he said. “This obviously causes a significant impact on families with the sudden loss of a family member. The impact on the community is also great.”
And the epidemic doesn’t seem to be slowing down, Sell said.
“While I am waiting for the statistical analysis, I can tell you from personal experience that the problem is getting worse, not better,” he said.
Opioid addiction and overdoses affect people from all walks of life, according to Sell.
“Opioid abuse can be found from adolescent ages all the way to elderly retirement age,” he said. “Whether synthetic, heroin or prescription opioids, the consequences of addition are the same.”
The abuse of prescription opioids, in particular, appears to be rising, Sell said.
“We have noticed a significant increase in the use of prescribed opioid abuse,” he said. “Oxycodone, morphine, tramadol, fentanyl are all prescribed medications that we may encounter in the field.”
All Pasadena fire engines, trucks and rescue ambulances are equipped with naloxone, a nasal spray which can help counter the effect of opioid overdose, Sell said.
Fire personnel have administered the anti-overdose drug 57 times this year, Sell said.
The “vast majority” of Pasadena police officers are also equipped with the medication, Lt. Anthony Russo said.
The medication is used fairly infrequently, Lt. William Grisafe said. Fewer than five naloxone deployments by police have been reported this year.
Officers had responded to 37 reported overdoses since the beginning of the year, he said. But additional overdoses may have been reported as other types of incidents, such as death investigations or “suspicious circumstances.”
The number of overdose fatalities reported this year in Pasadena was not available Tuesday.
When a person does suffer a drug overdose, early intervention is critical, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“If you suspect a friend has overdosed, getting medical attention can save his or her life,” the DEA said in a written statement. “Call 911, give accurate details about what happened, and make sure you provide first responders or emergency medical personnel with as much information as possible. Important information includes what type of drugs were taken, how much was taken and when.
“Be honest with the medical professionals who ask questions about your friend,” the statement continued. “Withholding even one piece of information or lying could have serious consequences. The medical staff must know as much as they can to treat your friend properly.”
Additionally, California is among 17 states and the District of Columbia that has espoused a “good Samaritan law,” barring people from being prosecuted for minor drug offenses, such as simple possession and being under the influence of a controlled substance, when reporting a potential overdose to authorities.
The legislation, enacted in 2013, was intended to reduce overdose deaths, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
But the law does not shield people against more serious offenses, such as selling drugs or administering drugs to people against their will.
More information on drug overdoses can be found on a DEA website at www.justthinktwice.gov.