CARMEL, Calif. - U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions described overdose deaths which reached epic proportions last year as, “the top lethal issue.”
While not to that scale, opioid abuse has also become a big problem on the Central Coast. Now law enforcement agencies in Monterey County said they’re taking steps to save lives.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. When you mix the opioid with heroin or cocaine it can create an even stronger high and it’s taking its toll on the Central Coast.
Figures from the state show 10 people in Monterey County died of overdoses last year and it’s something doctors said they see often.
"We have some informal numbers. We're seeing about one drug overdose of some sort a day. And by the numbers in the county, the ambulance is giving about one dose of naloxone every day or every other day,” said Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Dr. Casey Grover
Naloxone also known as narcan can stop an opioid overdose.
"Put the spray in the nose, push the button,” said Dr. Reb Close with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
What used to be in the hands of medical professionals is now in the glove boxes of patrol cars in Carmel and Pacific Grove.
"I think it's wonderful because law enforcement, people have to remember we're first responders. We're in the business of saving lives as well,” said Carmel Police Chief, Paul Tomasi.
It’s not just users who could be at risk for exposure. Fentanyl, which can have a consistency like powdered sugar or baby powder, can be toxic to people who breathe it in.
"We have seen incidents all over the country of officers getting exposed to a drug called fentanyl and it can be in a powder form and if ingested it can have the same effects as an opioid, which it is, but it's a much stronger opioid and it could also lead to death,” said Chief Tomasi.
Chief Tomasi was tasked with representing other police chiefs to set up policies, procedures and training for the narcan. The chief has been working with two doctors from CHOMP to get the program going. The two doctors have been working on it for years with help from the hospital and coworkers.
"We approached montage and asked for help in this start-up and they gave it to us,” said Dr. Close.
While Carmel hasn’t had to use the narcan in the field yet, Pacific Grove Police did several weeks ago.
"Officers responded to a call where someone called in saying someone was overdosing. Officers showed up, they examined the individual and decided to deploy the narcan,” said Commander Rory Lakind.
While Fentanyl can be harmful if abused. It can also be helpful under the right circumstances.
"Absolutely for cancer patients who get fentanyl supervised by their doctor it can be absolutely safe and very beneficial to somebody who is suffering from severe pain,” said Dr. Grover.
Santa Cruz County saw 34 opioid-related deaths last year. Several law enforcement agencies there also carry the life-saving sprays.