SANTA ANA (CNS) – Opioid overdose deaths in Orange County continue to outstrip the average in the state and elsewhere in Southern California, but fatalities and emergency room visits are trending down as officials address the epidemic, according to a report released today by the Orange Count Health Care Agency.
Last year, officials saw the first dip in opioid-related emergency room visits with a 6% decline over 2017. Hospitalization of overdose patients decreased about 5% last year over the prior year, according to the report.
Opioid-related deaths trended up each year since 2011, with it peaking in 2016, but the number of deaths dropped from 288 in 2016 to 251 last year.
From 2011 to last year, 64.2%, or 1,292 opioid-related overdose fatalities in the county, were male users. Nearly four out of five deaths were white victims, followed by Latinos at 15.9%, Asians at 2.9%, other ethnicities at 1.5% and blacks at 1.1%. The top age group of fatalities were 45 to 54 at 22.5%, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds at 21.1% and 55- to 64-year-olds at 20.9%.
The most common culprits were heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl, according to the report. Of the overdose deaths from 2011 through last year, heroin was a killer 29% of the time, hydrocodone at 27.8%, morphine at 24.1%, oxycodone at 20.5% and fentanyl at 14.3%.
Physicians are dispensing less prescriptions for the painkillers, according to the report. The nearly 1.5 million painkiller prescriptions dispensed last year was down from the average of 1.7 million in the three prior years.
“The decline in opioid overdose deaths parallels the drop in prescriptions, however, there has been an increase in heroin and fentanyl-related deaths,” according to the report.
County officials are launching a number of campaigns to educate and treat residents to further reduce the epidemic.
Orange County Board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said, “I’m pleased to share that in early 2020, the county of Orange will be launching two new opioid overdose and misuse prevention campaigns. Both campaigns will include countywide education as well as targeted messaging for high-risk groups and regions of the county, through a multimedia approach using social, digital and print media.”
Supervisor Andrew Do noted the county recently established a mental health facility in the county to tackle the drug-abuse problem.
“The opioid crisis touches the lives of every family in Orange County,” he said. “That’s why we worked so hard to establish Be Well OC, the first mental health and wellness campus in Orange County, which will help residents get clean and stay sober.”
Supervisor Michelle Steel also praised a campaign among medical care providers that expands opioid training for doctors.