Less than a day after another overdose patient came into the emergency room of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Emergency Department Medical Director Casey Grover made a public plea on Thursday, Oct. 24, standing alongside representatives from law enforcement, fire departments, the Monterey Unified School District and drug treatment specialists at Colton Hall in Monterey.
“This may sound blunt, but please don’t die,” Grover said.
The overdose patient who came into CHOMP the night of Oct. 23 was saved with naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of opioids, but a 16-year-old girl in Seaside was not so fortunate; she died on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Grover is aware of 29 opioid-related deaths in Monterey County since the start of 2019, compared to eight last year. Officials said overdoses have tripled so far this year over last.
The big fear among officials is that illegal street drugs laced with cheap and ultra-powerful fentanyl are proliferating throughout the county. Lt. Ethan Andrews, of the Monterey Police Department and the Peninsula Regional Violence and Narcotics Team, said illicit drug makers are using fentanyl to cut other drugs—including opioids, heroin, cocaine and cannabis—to increase their profits. Where the altered drugs are being manufactured is the subject of an ongoing investigation.
Within days of an alert sent out last month by Santa Clara County law enforcement about counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, the CSU Monterey Bay Police reported they thought similar pills were on campus, Grover said. Within a week or two, overdoses began showing up in the emergency room, totaling nine overdoses on the Monterey Peninsula within the last couple of weeks.
The big message of the press conference, however, was the importance of taking action to save lives.
Grover and others emphasized the importance of not taking any drugs that are not prescribed and do not come from a pharmacy. They urged people to call 911 immediately if they suspect someone is overdosing.
They also encouraged residents to purchase the antidote to opioid overdoses, naloxone, commercially known as Narcan, and learn how to use it. Guillermo Rodriguez, clinical director of Valley Health Associates, said his organization is making the antidote available for free for anyone who asks as well as provide training on how to use it. He also suggested people keep naloxone with them in a backpack or the trunk of car in case of an emergency.
Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers noted the 2012 Good Samaritan Law protects those who report an overdose from being prosecuted for possessing drugs or being under the influence.
“All we want to do is save that person (who is overdosing),” Somers said. Police will use naloxone to save their life on the scene, “and no one is going to jail.” On the flip side, if an overdose victim dies because someone waits and does nothing out of fear, that bystander could be arrested. The DA’s office has prosecuted people for murder in those situations.
The other major message was the importance of talking to children and teenagers about the dangers of counterfeit drugs. Susan Swick, the founding physician in chief of Ohana, CHOMP’s Center for Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, counseled that parents shouldn’t tell children about the dangers first—first ask questions about what children are hearing at school or among friends and listen to their answers. “Then it’s time for telling,” she said.
Swick also suggested helping children and teens come up with a script for turning down offers from friends to try a drug.
Why teens are more prone to trying drugs is tied to their developing brains being “programmed to seek novelty,” Swick said. They will tolerate higher levels of risk in search of that novelty.
Andrews took advantage of the opportunity to promote free and anonymous drug take-back events taking place all over the nation on Saturday, Oct. 26. Law enforcement agencies and other locations around Monterey County will take in any drugs, no questions asked. Locations are available at the website takebackday.dea.gov.
This is the third alert about fentanyl issued locally within the last month. The Monterey County Department of Health issued an alert on Sept. 30, and PRVNT issued another alert on Oct. 22, the same day an emergency meeting of around 50 medical personnel, law enforcement and others was called, officials said at the press conference.
The conclusion was that they weren’t going to be able to stem the rising tide of overdoses and deaths alone.
“We need assistance from the community,” Andrews said.
Editor's Note: This post was updated to clarify that not only does Valley Health Associates provide training on how to use the antidote naloxone, the organization will also provide naloxone for free to anyone who asks for it.