Rise in fentanyl deaths prompts creation of bipartisan special committee | News

As opioid and fentanyl addiction continues to take the lives of Californians, state officials have created a bipartisan committee to find a solution that combines public health and law enforcement strategies.

As announced by Assembly Member Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), the 11-member Special Committee will travel across the state to hear from addiction experts, affected residents and local government agencies to better understand how fentanyl is affecting California communities.

The committee, a group of representatives from across California, will address three areas of interest – public health response, law enforcement and drug sales, and current addiction treatment. The hope is to develop guidelines and a nationwide strategy to prevent fatal drug overdoses.

Over 6,000 Californians died from opioid overdoses in the past year alone, and the numbers this year are likely to be similar, according to state health data.

Haney said there must be statewide solutions as this is an epidemic that crosses county, city and partisan borders.

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“This committee will focus on solutions and collaboration. This is not something we all have to agree on, and we won’t all agree on every solution,” Haney said at a news conference. “But we agree that our constituents are suffering, our communities are being devastated and we are not doing enough.”

He added that some local communities and counties are already implementing lifesaving practices, but they need state support and their strategies should expand across California.

“The goal of this committee is to really help develop government solutions, legislative solutions, and a statewide plan to respond to the opioid epidemic,” Haney said.

Keith Humphreys, a Stanford professor of psychiatry and former senior drug policy adviser to then-President Barack Obama, said fentanyl’s move from the eastern states to the west coast comes with “unprecedented debt” — more Californians are dying from overdoses now than ever .

“We’re going to lose more lives to COVID-19 this year in the United States, but we’re going to lose more years of life to drug overdoses because the people who are dying are so much younger,” Humphreys said.

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It’s not just about fatal overdoses, either, Humphreys said, because behind every person who overdoses, there are dozens more living with the addiction. Addiction not only causes serious health problems for a person, but it can also harm loved ones and their community, he said.

“This is not possible if the police and the doctors are arguing,” Humphreys said. “They all really have to work together because both their expertise and their energy are needed.”

dr Lee Trope, a pediatrician who works with opioid-dependent adolescents at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said few pediatric providers are trained to treat opioid and fentanyl addiction, although it is becoming more accessible to adolescents. She often hears from teens who buy what they think is Percocet, a less dangerous opioid, from apps like Snapchat just so it’s pure fentanyl. The youngest fentanyl-dependent patient she treated was just 12 years old.

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“Several had tried stopping ‘cold turkey’ many times before, only to find withdrawal so unbearable and help so hard to find that they reluctantly went back to get more opioids down the road for relief,” Trope said. “I learned from these kids that getting help is usually harder than just continuing to use. We have to change that.”

Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) said he is committed to focusing on the causes people turn to drugs and how socioeconomic factors such as home or job insecurity can lead people down the path to substance abuse in times of desperation .

“The time for change and solutions based on healing and lifesaving is now,” Bryan said. “I look forward to working with the other members of this committee to identify and advance these solutions.”

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