Strung Out

Dr. Reb Close, left, and Dr. Casey Grover, right, have spent countless hours of volunteer time to launch Prescribe Safe, and have published scholarly articles about the initiative

In April 2020, shortly after shelter-in-place took effect, drug-related overdose cases fell at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula to less than half than before the pandemic began, from over 40 per month to only 17, says Reb Close, a CHOMP emergency room physician and co-founder of Prescribe Safe Monterey County. In summer, the numbers jumped back up to pre-pandemic levels and since January, they’ve steadily increased. “It’s just been really getting out of hand,” Close says.

Close compared January-June 2020 numbers for all drug-related overdoses, 155 treated in the ER, to the same period of 2021, with 198. The data is still preliminary, but so far, it appears all drug overdoses and deaths have increased in the county, state and nation. Monterey County is in line with the state for overdose deaths in 2020, with more than 20 deaths per 100,000 residents for each.

Besides increases in opioids and fentanyl either reported or presumed in CHOMP cases, other drugs have increased, with a sharp rise in alcohol-related overdoses recently. “Alcohol is through the roof right now,” Close says. CHOMP emergency doctors have seen more cases of unresponsive people found in the street or discovered by friends or loved ones who call 911 fearing someone won’t wake up.

Prescribe Safe is increasing efforts to stem the tide through partnerships with a wide array of professionals, from educators to law enforcement, to create new initiatives and increase community awareness. They convened a Youth Collaborative group on July 23 to develop a plan to teach resilience to children in coming years, hoping to minimize substance dependency and abuse.

In the meantime, Close is encouraging families and others to keep naloxone, an antidote to opioids and fentanyl, on hand just in case.

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