Wider distribution of the life-saving drug comes in response to review board recommendation
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has started the process of installing boxes of naloxone, a lifesaving medication that can reverse an opiate overdose, in communal areas in all six of its jails.
The action follows a formal recommendation by the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board last month that asked that naloxone, also known as Narcan, be “readily available” to all incarcerated people.
The letter thanked the review board for its recommendation and said the department had begun the process of installing the boxes. A sheriff’s spokeswoman said the goal is to have the boxes installed in all jails by the end of the month.
In his letter, Greenawald noted that deputies, who all carry naloxone, had used 259 doses in cases of suspected overdose since the beginning of the year, providing, on average, three doses per person. Deputies give multiple doses if a person doesn’t respond to the initial dose.
The letter also describes efforts the department’s taken to address the influx of drugs, particularly fentanyl, into jails, including educating incarcerated people on the dangers of overdose and using a specially trained fentanyl-sniffing dog to conduct regular checks alongside dogs who can sniff out methamphetamine and heroin.
A study commissioned by the review board last year and released in April found that San Diego County jails have the highest rate of overdose deaths among California’s 12 largest counties.
Last June, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that overdoses in local jails had jumped from 11 in 2018 to 75 in 2020 to 53 in the first five months of 2021. Since 2020, at least a dozen people incarcerated in San Diego jails have died from a drug overdose.
CLERB’s recommendation noted that last year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department launched a pilot program that placed two naloxone doses in each unit of the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic. Only a month after the naloxone was installed, inmates used it to save the lives of two men who had collapsed after ingesting fentanyl.
Gretchen Burns Bergman, the executive director of the nonprofit A New PATH, for Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing, said she was pleased to hear that the review board’s recommendation is being implemented.
“I believe that everyone — in the community and behind bars — should have quick access to naloxone,” she told the Union-Tribune. Although I think this response is overdue, given the gravity of the opioid overdose crisis, I’m glad they have a plan to give immediate access to inmates.”
Installing naloxone boxes is part of a larger effort the department launched this month to better identify and treat people struggling with substance abuse. The new protocols include expanded use of the medication buprenorphine, which eases the often excruciating process of opiate withdrawal. Buprenorphine also helps individuals maintain sobriety by alleviating drug cravings.
The new protocols follow a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year that asks a judge to order the sheriff to give inmates access to naloxone. The filing also asked that the jails be required to implement medication-assisted drug treatment, among other reforms. The lawsuit’s first hearing is scheduled for Aug. 11.