San Diego County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a framework in anticipation of an expected $100 million in settlement money from pharmaceutical companies to address the region’s opioid crisis.
As proposed by Supervisors Joel Anderson and Nathan Fletcher, the strategies include expanding access to medically assisted treatment, putting wellness advocates in hospitals, providing wrap-around services and housing, drug disposal including bags, and public information campaigns.
Some programs will be implemented as soon as the money is available, while others will require additional structures to be put in place before they can be successfully implemented, according to the county.
Fletcher, the board chairman, described the framework as comprehensive and sufficiently flexible.
Although prescribed narcotic pills like oxycodone are the catalyst for the new county policy, abuse of the synthetic opioid fentanyl has worsened the crisis and accelerated the damage, Fletcher said.
In a joint statement after the vote, Fletcher said the county “is now ready to take action quickly to combat this crisis by investing millions of dollars in best-practices to help San Diegans overcome addiction and save lives.”
Anderson said: “We all know someone who has been impacted by opioid addiction, whether it be a family member, friend or neighbor. Today, my board colleagues and I voted to take a proactive and measured approach to addressing this crisis. There is no time to wait to save lives, and now, we won’t have to.”
Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said it was important for the county to collect its share of the damages from drug companies and pursue accountability.
“Opioid manufacturers knew they were doing wrong, but they did it to make money, and they did it at the cost of human life,” Lawson-Remer said.
In 2021, more than 900 San Diegans died from opioid-related accidental overdoses, a 54% increase from the previous year, according to the county. In 2021, San Diego County recorded more than 800 fentanyl-related overdose deaths, a 400% increase from 151 recorded deaths in 2019.
During a public comment period, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said the framework is “a much-needed blueprint for our region in transforming the health and well-being of our community.”
Stephan noted that over 100,000 people died from overdose in the United States last year, with 70,000 of those deaths from fentanyl.
Lisa Nava, a North County resident who whose son overdosed on fentanyl in April 2019, urged the board to act.
“I speak before you today as a broken person … to honor my son,” said Nava, who added it was important that those living with addiction have a voice on such a pressing issue.
Another woman who said her sister died from fentanyl said families need help and education. “It may be too late for my sister, but it’s not too late for the many who are suffering,” she added.
A woman who identified herself as Oliver Twist suggested the county have a “fentanyl dashboard,” so residents can know how many residents are dying from the drug.
Twist said it wasn’t a good idea to send out drug-disposal bags to everyone, as it was akin to “sending condoms to a convent.”
City News Service contributed to this article.