On Feb. 4, the president and CEO of Montage Health, Dr. Steven Packer, proudly told a large audience at the nonprofit’s annual luncheon that overdose deaths were down “dramatically” in Monterey County, thanks to Prescribe Safe, a collaborative program of health providers and law enforcement agencies meant to limit the number of prescription opioids getting out into the community.
Since that good news, deaths from opioid overdoses have tripled – 29 since January, compared to nine in all of 2018 – according to Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno. The suspected culprit for the sharp spike is an increasing flow nationally of counterfeit street drugs containing fentanyl, considered 100 times stronger than oxycodone. Emergency room doctors are reporting that they’re having to use multiple doses of naloxone to reverse overdose effects and save patients’ lives, Moreno says.
It’s unknown how many of those deaths can be directly linked to counterfeit drugs, but officials believe fentanyl is a cause.
“It’s difficult to track because we haven’t gotten all the toxicology reports back and that takes a while,” says Health Department spokesperson Karen Smith. Officials were sufficiently alarmed to issue a press release on Sept. 30, to make the public aware of counterfeit drugs, which could include opioids, heroin, methamphetamine, powder cocaine and cannabis.
The fake oxycodone pills look similar to legitimate pills. Officials are urging people to dispose of potentially counterfeit pills at free take-back locations, which are listed on the Health Department’s website, mtyhd.org. Officials also advise people to learn how to use naloxone and carry it with them at all times.