Democratic Club Speaker Series Tackles Opioid Crisis

By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter

The realities of the opioid crisis came to Pacific Palisades as the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club hosted a discussion on the topic at Palisades Branch Library on Tuesday, March 26.

Guest speakers included Dr. Albert Pacheco, director of the CLARE|MATRIX Opioid Treatment Program, Jena Fellenzer, community outreach specialist for the Drug Enforcement Agency, Allison Towle, district director, Office of State Senator Ben Allen, and Tina Haro, a public information officer with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Topics included eye-opening statistics on opioids, such as the United States consuming 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioids and 72,000 people per year dying from overdose.

Out of the 192 people that die from drug overdose per day, 130 are from opioid abuse.

“Right now, the U.S. is witnessing the third wave of the nation’s opioid epidemic,” Fellenzer explained. “The first wave was prescription pain medications, the second was heroin, which replaced pills when they became too expensive, and now fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and is easier to produce.”

Putting a human element to the numbers, Captain Haro described the scenes that first responders see everyday when arriving at an overdose sight. She noticed the lack of education on the matter could lead to death, like false beliefs that a douse of ice water could shock someone out of an overdosed state or refusing further treatment for fear of legal trouble.

“Sometimes they admit to what they took, but we’re not the police, so we’re not there to manage that aspect of it,” Haro explained. “All overdose calls we typically get, the police department also gets the call.”

First responders administer a tried and proven medication named Narcan that blocks the effects of opioids in the system and has saved countless lives.

“We bring them back to breathing to sustain life, but we try not to wake them up because nine times out of 10, they don’t want to go to the hospital at that point,” she said.

With Narcan being a temporary fix, drug users could potentially fall back into an overdosed state if further treatment is not given at a hospital.

While first responders act as the foot soldiers to combat overdoses, some forces in Washington are also hard at work to combat this increasing problem.

Towle described efforts by Senator Allen to fight the problem, like helping to implement Assembly Bill 2789, a bill that requires doctors to issue prescriptions electronically as opposed to hand-written notes that could be forged or reused.

Other bills include AB 2256 that allows the manufacturer of Narcan to provide that directly to law enforcement agencies without having to go through a third party.

The senator, Towle said, is now working toward getting SB 486 passed, a bill that aims to prohibit patient brokering—a practice where “brokers” pay drug-addicted patients to admit themselves into a treatment center and provides commissions for the broker, patient and facility, but patients later use their earnings to buy more drugs.