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Opinion: San Diego County putting Narcan in vending machines is smart. But it can do even more.
San Diego Union-Tribune - 8/3/2022
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San Diego County
Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher — who has led the bold makeover and record spending of a once-tightfisted board the past few years — has made particular strides in public health. This was clear in the difference between the county's decisive reaction to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and its passive response to the hepatitis A outbreak of 2017 — and in the passage of a $7.36 billion annual budget in June.
Of late, the San Diego Democrat and supervisors in general have made an improved response to the deadly opioid epidemic a priority. Given that it killed an estimated 900 county residents last year, this is badly needed. So is the readiness to act quickly on new ways to respond to the epidemic, such as the decision authorities announced last week to install 12 vending machines around the county that dispense free naloxone — a medication better known by its brand name of Narcan — that can quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and prevent deaths. The first such machines debuted in February in Philadelphia.
This is a great idea, but the details raise questions about how big an impact it may have. To get a pin code providing access to the naloxone, people must first register anonymously and complete online training, per state regulations. This may make sense to prevent doses from being stolen, but it is likely to seem too onerous and risky for many users who don't trust privacy promises. County officials recognize this and say that the machines are meant to help users prepare for possible overdoses, not to respond to them. They note the machines are "one of many access points" to naloxone.
But a bolder approach is warranted. The county's Citizens' Law Enforcement Review Board recently persuaded the Sheriff's Department that naloxone should be "readily available" to all jail inmates. To the extent that it is feasible, naloxone should be "readily available" to even more San Diegans.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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