Civic leaders, sheriff’s deputies and doctors stood up shoulder-to-shoulder against the nationwide opioid epidemic Wednesday, announcing the use of a medical tool to help stop overdose deaths and prevent heroin and opioids “devastating” the Santa Clarita Valley.
And the rash of overdose cases last month, prompted Santa Clarita Valley’s new top cop to tackle the problem in a systematic way.
Each of the 240 sworn personnel at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station is expected to be trained in the use of and equipped with the anti-overdose drug naloxone, referred to by its brand name, Narcan.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across the country, and we don’t want it to happen here,” said Los Angeles Sheriff Department Commander Judy Gerhardt who came up with the Narcan program after her 23-year-old nephew died of an overdose.
It is the hope of LASD officials to distribute Narcan to every deputy across the county – beginning with deputies in the SCV.
The Santa Clarita Valley was moved to the top of the program’s list in light of a recent spate of overdose cases witnessed here. During a 72-hour period in April, eight overdose patients turned up at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. One person died.
“The issue of heroin is a nationwide problem and not one unique to the Santa Clarita Valley,” Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth told a cluster of reporters gathered outside the sheriff’s station Wednesday.
“Santa Clarita is a community that isn’t immune to the issue of heroin addiction but what makes us unique is the way we’re going to tackle it,” Smyth said, calling the united front a “holistic” approach and the best approach.
Los Angeles Counter Supervisor Kathryn Barger addressed the issue first with a statistic, noting: “On average, 91 people die each day of an overdose. Unfortunately, our county is not immune.
“We’ve seen its devastating effects on families and communities throughout our region,” she said. “We believe that those who struggle with abuse can and need to receive the help they deserve.
“Today, we are here to announce a step forward in this effort,” she said. “Our first responders in law enforcement are often the first to arrive on a scene at a medical emergency like an overdose but until now have not been equipped with the means to immediately respond to the overdose
“These deputies based in our Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station will now have a vital tool to help victims survive and have another chance at life.
To explain how Narcan saves lives, Dr. Darrin Privett of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital referred to naloxone as an “opioid antagonist” which he said “competes with opioids in the body, making that opioid ineffective.”
Privett stressed the importance for anyone finding a person unconscious due to an overdose to make sure the victim is getting oxygen.
Captain Robert Lewis said when he became SCV’S top cop in April he noticed an increase in overdoses in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“It was a signal to me,” he said. “So I formed a team and we went out and arrested illegal narcotics deliverers, rooting out the sources of devastation.”
A month after April’s rash of OD cases, Lewis assigned two sergeants, five detectives and a secretary to the special team.
During its first month of operation, the team carried out traffic stops, conducted ground and air surveillance operations resulting in the seizure of 20 ounces of heroin, $13,000 in cash and two cars found to have hidden compartments to conceal the narcotics.
By mid-June, the team had arrested 39 people arrested on suspicion of being narcotics dealers, a stolen firearm, and close to two pounds of recovered heroin.
“We found one package (of heroin) laced with Fentanyl,” Lewis told the conference.
At one point in the press conference, illustrating how pervasive the problem has become, Cary Quashen, Henry Mayo Executive Director of Behavioral Health and Director of Action Family Counseling, read a text on his phone from an addict in dire need of help.
“She writes: I’m not doing very good at all, I’m just trying to hold on.”
Quashen told the group: “Right now we’re in the midst of an epidemic and we have to think outside of the box.”
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