By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- The Oxnard City Council heard the latest update from the police department about reducing the number of opioid-related deaths within the city, Jan. 7.
Commander Sharon Giles presented the item to the council and said there is an opioid epidemic in the United States.
The latest statistics say 130 people a day die from overdosing on opioids in this country, and in 2016, 64,000 people died that year.
Opioids can be illegal drugs, but they can also be prescribed medications like oxycontin, Vicodin, and codeine, heroin, and fentanyl, which can be prescribed.
"Many of us have those if we have someone who is on hospice care," she said. "My sister died recently, and I was taking care of her for a couple of months. I had a lot of medications at home."
After her sister passed away, she had a lot of prescriptions that needed to be thrown away, and she put them in the police department pharmaceutical bin in the lobby.
The opioid epidemic has risen five-fold since 1999, she said, and in 2018, the Ventura County Coroner's office did 600 autopsies and determined there were 170 overdoses that year.
Oxnard had 41 opioid overdoses in 2018, and the City of Ventura had the highest number, 44.
"Those are pretty staggering numbers when you think about a city of our size," she said.
The Oxnard Police Department responded to 190 overdose calls in 2018, which equals approximately 3.5 calls per week.
"We administered nine treatments of Narcan nasal spray," she said. "We've trained more than 150 officers on the administration of Narcan."
Residents can purchase Narcan in a two-pack at your local pharmacy, and it costs between $75 and $90, depending on which pharmacy you patronize.
She showed the council what it looks like and said if a family member suffers from drug dependency, putting Narcan into the nostril (two pumps) means someone who is overdosing will be helped.
"All our officers at the police department are provided with these kits so we can administer them," Giles said. "Usually, EMS gets there before we do, but in 2018, we administered nine treatments. That was prior to EMS arriving at the scene."
She showed the council a graphic of repeat offenders from 2014-2018, and the number one offender had 92 arrests in five years.
The graphic demonstrated the overlap between drug dependency, homelessness, and chronic offenders.
The number two subject got arrested 68 times, and he died in Jan. 2019 from a drug overdose.
"In the police department lobby, we installed a pharmaceutical bin, and we collect between 40-50 pounds of medication to destroy on a monthly basis," she said. "We also collect pet medication, I have two little dogs myself, so I always have medication on hand."
The department also collects sharps for disposal.
Originally, the collection wasn't open to anyone outside the city, but that has changed, and everyone is welcome.
If you are not an Oxnard resident, the Oxnard Police Department will take your medication and dispose of it.
The Oxnard Police Department audited its responses to fatal and non-fatal overdoses, she said, and they didn't have a response process through the agency.
"It was more of a medical call, and they got medical services," she said. "Now, after we had that evaluation, we created a documentation process. When officers arrive at the scene, they do a report. They do that for the purpose of looking down the road to see if they can bring some justice, especially on the fatal cases."
That's an important point because the narcotics team can take the cell phones in situations where there is a death and track it back to the drug supplier and bring them to justice.
The Oxnard Police Department also documents non-fatal overdoses and then refers the case to mental health professionals, who can reach out to people and see if they want some help.
The department started a partnership with Ventura County Behavioral Health in late 2017 and still enjoys joint programs, including drug take-back events. In 2019, Oxnard held "quite a few events in the city" and worked with the Oxnard Senior Services.
"We're going to continue those because they were successful in 2018," she said. "We go to all three senior centers in Oxnard on a quarterly basis, and we pick up from those locations and bring those pharmaceuticals back to the police department to destroy them."
Behavioral Health is working with the police department to place Narcan kits in different places throughout the city.
The Oxnard Police Department had six overdose calls in Dec., and one call was particularly difficult.
"An eight-year-old child attempted to perform CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) on her mother who overdosed on heroin," Giles said."The child called 911. EMS responded to the residence and administered Narcan to the female victim, and she refused further treatment."
That type of call impacts everyone, she said, and her heart went out to the affected child.
One detective seized 22 pounds of fentanyl while working on a case, and said that 22 pounds are enough fentanyl to kill everyone in Ventura County six times over.
"That's what we're dealing with in our society here today and in our county," she said.
Mayor Tim Flynn cited the one story with the eight-year-old and said he hopes there is light at the end of the tunnel for that family.
During public comments, Gabe Tehran said opioid addiction is a pit that people get into that is "incredibly difficult" to escape from once hooked.
"At one point, when addicted to opiates, whether it is natural opiate-like heroin or a synthetic opioid that Commander Giles referenced, after a while, it isn't about them getting high anymore. It's about them not getting sick or feeling the withdrawal symptoms that come with them not having the drug in their system," he said. "They will have to take the drug to get out of bed and function as you and I do every day. When it gets to that point, it is a vicious cycle to get out of."
Councilman Bert Perello offered an opinion on the eight-year-old who performed CPR on his mother.
"I'm not being a parent, but that kid shouldn't be in that house," he said. "When I hear the issues that happened in Los Angeles County, sensational ones about abuse and bad things that have happened, social services have not been able to do what needed to be done."
Giles said in the last couple of years, laws have changed that do not help people dealing with addiction.
The laws came with the promise of providing plenty of education and treatment which hasn't materialized.
"Realistically, throughout the country and especially in California, it is not a crime anymore to use drugs," she said. "That doesn't help people who have that dependency issue. My advice is that when you vote, make sure you understand what you are voting for."