Houman Fakhimi

The Opioid Epidemic in California

The summer of 2016 delivered a blow to California medical professionals and lawmakers: opioid overdoses rose for the 11th straight year. 2017 is on a similar path, appearing to ensure the statistic increases by yet another year. Three out of four medical overdoses are due to either OxyContin or Vicodin and worse, the problem has just increased by tenfold as more turn to heroin when their prescriptions run out, only to overdose because no one really knows for sure what comes off the streets. Fentanyl laced heroin is the current crisis hitting emergency rooms.

To be sure, California’s opioid epidemic is one of the worst healthcare crises in history. With California hospitals treating, on average, an opioid overdose every 45 minutes, and nearly 5,000 deaths due to opioid abuse in 2014 (the most current year for certified numbers), it’s little wonder so many families live in perpetual fear. California has more opioid deaths than any other state.

The stories are many, from the 17-year-old kid with a football injury he was trying to overcome in time for the college recruiter to see him on the field to the young mother overwhelmed with no family to help and no way to cover her bills, no one is immune to this crisis. In many instances, the opioid epidemic has shattered lives in ways that are as cruel as death. A 23-year-old woman, addicted to OxyContin, overdosed and lay in a non responsive coma. Her body was in complete organ failure and she was on life support for three weeks. Her family began the preparations for a funeral and then she moved her finger, then opened her eyes. No one knows for sure if that was a curse or a miracle as she will never walk, talk or respond in any way for the rest of her life. She’s alive, but with no life other than the around the clock care she will now require for the rest of her days.

Last year, California introduced CURES. This new system can follow a patient and provide physicians the kind of tracking history that serves as a warning to early signs of addiction. It can also help prevent accidental overdoses, which are often fatal, when different drugs are combined. This empowers doctors to play a role in preventing overdose deaths and CURES has the endorsement of both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Governors Association.

As the opioid epidemic in California rages, it is worth noting that several states, including New York, Kentucky, Maryland and Connecticut has new laws that require medical personnel to check with the CURES database before prescribing any kind of opioids or sedatives. In late 2015, California’s legislature passed a bill that requires doctors to check CURES before writing a prescription. This bill has unanimous support of many lawmakers and SB 482 should make it through the legislative maze so that this new tool can ideally begin to change the way addiction is addressed in California and around the country.