County agencies join forces to fight fentanyl abuse

San Diego County officials, including District Attorney Summer Stephan (center) recently held a press conference to draw the public’s attention to the prevalence of fentanyl abuse in the community. (Webb)

A Day of Action event hosted by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was held in National City Aug. 28 to bring public awareness to an increasing fentanyl-related overdose death rate across San Diego County.

More than 30 agencies and organizations provided support for the event and representatives at over a dozen event booths provided information related to opioid abuse, and their own perspective on why their initiatives might be part of an overall approach to reducing opioid abuse throughout the county.

National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said the event was “about empowerment, engagement, a holistic way of looking at how to keep our community safe,” and that the variety of agencies offered different opportunities for engagement.

County officials are “stepping up our efforts to educate the public on how street drugs, no matter how authentic they look, are often mixed with fentanyl and are behind the alarming spike in deaths,” Stephan said.

One fentanyl pill can be deadly, said the District Attorney.

“San Diego County is really ground zero for the entry of fentanyl into our community. We saw, in 2019, 150 overdose deaths and in 2020 that tripled to 461 and we’re on track to see past 700 this year,” Stephan said.

Emergency medical personnel demonstrated how to administer Naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose and can potentially save someone’s life. One common formulary, Narcan, can be administered through a sinus spray, buying time to obtain trained professional help for an individual who is overdosing.

“Take the atomizer that you’ve got, two fingers on the top and one finger on the plunger, put it in the nostril, push the plunger down and hold it for about 10-15 seconds,” paramedic Susan Monroe said.

Moms United Organizer Gretchen Burns Bergman repeatedly restocked a display table with free boxes of Narcan for attendees to take with them and have on hand in case they encounter anyone who is overdosing.

“Remember to call 9-1-1 as you’re using the Narcan,” Bergman said.
Bergman said they train between 50 and 100 people each week on how to administer the Narcan nasal sprays.

“We’ve already given out 120 kits today,” she said.

To the right of the Moms United booth, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Rocky Herron talked to attendees about the prevalence of fentanyl.

“I’ve been a cop for 31 years and I’m horrified at how much worse the drug situation has gotten,” Herron said.

Standing behind a table in the booth to the left of Bergman, county of San Diego Homeless Solutions representative Steven Gonzalez said they attempt to connect calls they receive from individuals all over the county with programs that are more specific to individual needs.

“We try to connect anyone with substance abuse disorders with community partners,” Gonzalez said, although the event did not appear to be attended by anyone showing visible indicators of homelessness.

San Diego Continuing Education Outreach Coordinator Tavaris Franklin said events like the one on Saturday provide him with an opportunity to address education alongside physical and mental health information.

“People might see a flyer but once they meet me, I can bring it to life. See this sign-in sheet? It’s easy to take a flyer and move on but by having a sheet like this, I can connect with them, find them later and tell them about educational opportunities,” Franklin said.
San Diego NAACP President Francine Maxwell said the event was, above all else, a harm reduction activity.

County agencies join forces to fight fentanyl abuse