When it comes to the opiate crisis, Plumas County first made its mark as having the highest rate of deaths related to prescription drug overdose in the state. Now, Plumas County is making its mark on the state as the poster-child for what to do when a crisis like that arises.
Andrew Woodruff, the acting Public Health Department director, presented an update on the opioid crisis to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors during its meeting Nov. 14.
“Probably no one in this room is untouched by this problem,” said Woodruff. “Public Health started looking into what was actually going on, and we quickly saw that our county overdose death rate was higher than we ever expected, and multiple times higher than the state rate.”
With such startling statistics, Woodruff said the county hospitals and the public health department quickly went to work. In January 2016, they formed the Northern Sierra Opioid Safety Coalition to help combat the problem. The coalition was a regional coalition consisting of public health representatives from Modoc, Lassen, Plumas and Sierra counties.
The goals of the coalition were to promote safe prescribing, expand access to the drug naloxone, an overdose reversal drug and promote access to medication-assisted treatment programs.
Prior to 2016, there were no doctors in the region who offered medication-assisted treatment for drug overdoses, now there are two in each county. Also, first responders now carry naloxone, which comes in a nasal spray, to administer to overdose patients on site. The coalition also initiated a community distribution program for naloxone.
Woodruff said 2016 was a great year for the region. In three of the four counties, there have been zero deaths from overdose. Access to naloxone has reversed at least 12 overdoses and prescribing rates have gone down in all four counties.
Woodruff said the coalition is receiving state recognition for its efforts.
“It is just really exciting,” said Woodruff. “At one point we were getting attention for being the worst and now as a coalition we have been asked to help (the rest of the state).”
Woodruff then presented the board with a big effort in public health’s drug takeback program. James Wilson, the coalition director, rolled in a large green metal kiosk, similar to a mail box, that will be at sheriff’s departments and pharmacies throughout the region. People with extra opioids can return the drugs to avoid having them get into the wrong hands.
“This is something that the community has been asking for,” said Woodruff.
“It is definitely a needed thing,” said District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss. “A lot of folks get these opioid medications prescribed to them and then it just sits in their bathroom cabinets and kids or folks get their hands on them, and it leads to overdoses. I think this is a huge step for the county in getting rid of those medications that are out there.”