San Diego County to Triple Spending on Substance Treatment

Created: 29 March, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Alexandra Mendoza

San Diego County will triple its budget for addressing the opioid crisis the region – and the rest of the U.S. – faces.

This week, the County Board of Supervisors approved increasing spending from $54.6 to $179.6 million in order to combat opioid and other substance abuse disorders that can be linked to an increase in homelessness, mental illness, and criminal behavior.

During the past fiscal year, close to 11,300 people received addiction treatment at county rehab centers. The additional monies will enable them to provide rehabilitation, counseling, and recovery housing (among other services) to 30 percent more individuals.

Piedad Garcia, deputy director of Mental Health Services for the County of San Diego, explained that this initiative will “transform the substance use treatment system” by allocating more resources and will integrate medicine into treatment for the first time.

“We used to have limited access to treatment, and now we have expanded and grown so that there is no wait list to enter recovery clinics and residential programs,” she said. “We still have many, many steps to take, but I think it will benefit the community overall.”

The plan will improve treatment, increase efficiencies, and reduce costs, county officials said. The approach will be to address this growing issue as a public health crisis.

“I have been working here for 30 years, and this is the first time that the drug rehab program receives this kind of money,” she added.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts stated that this initiative is a “game-changing” investment and a program that will save lives.

An estimated 64,000 people lost their lives in 2016 due to drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a fourfold increase in comparison to the numbers nearly 20 years ago.

In San Diego County, there were more than 500 unintentional drug or alcohol deaths in 2016, and county officials say that number continues to rise.

“When you look at death statistics, you need to understand that that is just the tip of the iceberg; there are many people whose lives have been broken by addictions, so the number of deaths does not paint a complete picture,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Cindy Cipriani.

California is considered an “impact area” due to its closeness to the southern border, point of entry for large amounts of drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Officials have identified an alarming trend regarding fentanyl. In 2015, 30 kilograms of the drug were seized; two years later, the number had increased to 537 kilos.

“Fentanyl is incredibly potent and dangerous. It can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine,” shared Cipriani, adding that – in most cases – the person is not even aware that they’re taking it, since it is sold in the black market as oxycodone.

Fentanyl deaths doubled in San Diego from 2016 to 2017, said the Assistant U.S. Attorney.

The treatment services will be designed to serve low-income persons as part of an integrated strategy aimed at eradicating other social issues.

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