FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE)- Local health officials call it ‘the other pandemic.’ On Friday during a media briefing, local law enforcement and health officials discussed a dramatic rise in opioid overdoses in Fresno county.
They also announced new local initiatives to distribute Narcan, a life-saving drug for those who have overdosed.
This comes as law enforcement and local health officials are seeing a rise specifically in fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid where only a small amount can be fatal.
At the briefing, a representative for The Fresno County Coroner’s Office reported that in 2020, 254 deaths were related to drug overdoses in the county, with fentanyl having the second-highest single-drug overdose deaths, with methamphetamine causing the most single-drug overdose deaths.
The coroner reports from 2019 to 2020, fentanyl-related deaths jumped from 15 to 40. This includes single-drug overdoses and overdoses where fentanyl was mixed with another substance.
On Thursday, the Fresno Police Department announced a new program through Community Medical Group, where anyone can walk in and ask for Narcan, no questions asked. This applies to Community Regional Medical Center and the emergency room at Clovis Community Hospital.
“We have Narcan available,” said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra. Dr. Vohra also works with Community Medical Group. “You just walk into CRMC, you can walk into our health department. Narcan can save your life, really within seconds or minutes.”
Fresno police chief, Paco Balderrama, says fentanyl can easily find its way into the hands of young people who think it’s a prescription painkiller. The Fresno County Coroner reports from 2019 to 2020, drug overdose deaths in those 20-years-old or younger increased by 400%.
“The thing about fentanyl is that it looks like a pill,” Balderrama said. “It doesn’t have those negative connotations that those street drugs do, so it sometimes makes it into our middle schools and high schools.”
Balderrama adds in this day and age, it’s easier than ever for young people to get dangerous substances.
“All they have to do is go on Snapchat or one of the other social media platforms, send a message, and you know, within 15 to 20 minutes they can get access to that drug.”
Dr. Rais Vohra says Community’s Narcan distribution program is supplied and funded through the state, and it’s easy for businesses, agencies, schools, and virtually any organization to apply for.
“Whether you’re a school, a church, a coffee shop, a retail store, or any other civic agency, know that this grant is available.”
The Fresno County Coroner reports so far in 2021, there have been 27 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. The coroner’s office says at this rate, the coroner predicts fentanyl-related deaths could exceed last year’s numbers.