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San Diego County is on track to receive upwards of $100 million as part of an opioid settlement with Purdue Pharma as early as this year; so today Chair Nathan Fletcher, Supervisor Joel Anderson and County behavioral and public health experts announced three planning sessions to determine how to best use those funds to address the opioid epidemic in San Diego County.

This year Chair Fletcher, Supervisor Anderson and County staff will hold three planning sessions: The planned dates are: August 10, September 6th and September 7. At these convenings they  will have different individuals who interact with those who live with addiction, such as emergency room doctors, harm reduction advocates, and individuals with lived experience.   

On October 4th, a hearing on the findings from these meetings will be held; and then later that same month, Chair Fletcher and Supervisor Anderson will use the input received to present a plan to the Board of Supervisors for how to spend the money. 

“In San Diego County over the last couple of years, this Board of Supervisors has been more aggressive, and is moving faster to strengthen our strategy and tactics to address the fentanyl and opioid crisis,” said Chair Fletcher. But there are still too many families who suffer a tragic loss of life because of addiction. The money from the settlement, if spent on best practices, will make our response even stronger, and help to save lives.”

 In 2020, San Diego County recorded 462 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. This marks a 202% increase in one year, from 151 recorded deaths in 2019. In 2021 more than 1,000 San Diegans died from opioid related overdoses, which is a 16% increase from the year prior. There has been a year over year increase for more than a decade.

 “I am proud to partner with Chair Fletcher to address opioid abuse and addiction in San Diego County. Sadly, many of our community members have lost loved ones to this epidemic. I am hopeful through investments by the County in addiction treatment and services we can prevent these tragedies,” shared Supervisor Anderson.

San Diego County is among the leading plaintiffs in a legal action against Purdue Pharma, the drug company that knowingly addicted millions of Americans to make billions. Chair Fletcher first discussed getting ready to use the funds during this year’s State of San Diego County Address (video here).

The County’s Behavioral Health Director Dr. Luke Bergmann stated, “We need to make care for addiction as normal and as accessible as any other kind of healthcare. This will mean heading in new directions and will require sources of revenue that allow for creativity and flexibility; the opportunity in these opioid settlement funds cannot be overstated.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hernandez, director of County Public Health Services, welcomes the acceleration of programs the funding could provide. “We have a public health crisis and our team is ready to sit down with the community and discuss how these opioid settlement funds can lead to new and innovative approaches to saving lives,” said Dr. Hernandez.  

In early 2021, Chair Fletcher received support from a majority of his colleagues, to give the Behavioral Health Services team more authority to implement industry best practices to help San Diegans manage their addiction to opioids and other debilitating substances. In May of 2021, County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten signed a Naloxone Standing Order to allow: 1.) Community organizations to distribute without a prescription to any person at risk of an overdose or to a family member, friend, or other person able to assist; and 2.) The administration of naloxone to a person suspected of experiencing an overdose by a family member, friend or bystander. And in December Chair Fletcher and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 to move forward several harm reduction drug treatment projects being undertaken by the County’s Public and Behavioral Health Services. 

Signs of an Overdose

To determine if someone you know has overdosed on opioids, fentanyl or other drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look for these signs:

  •  Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”

  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness

  • Slow, shallow breathing

  • Choking or gurgling sounds

  • Limp body

  • Pale, blue or cold skin

Get help for Addiction

The County has inpatient and outpatient treatment services available throughout the region that can help San Diegans with substance use disorders. People seeking help should call the San Diego County Access and Crisis Line 888-724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego. Both resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.