Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

opioids

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Earlier this spring, a few dozen people sat in a Bakersfield conference room in front of a table piled high with nondescript white boxes, each a little wider than a shoebox. Among those was Heather Menzel, who, along with three colleagues, couldn’t wait to grab as many as possible. When the man behind the table asked how many she wanted, Menzel answered simply, “as many as we can all collectively get together.”

Fresno County Sheriff's Office

The opioid crisis has been a national focus for years, but new state data show another family of drugs has eclipsed opioids in the San Joaquin Valley.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

 

Bakersfield Police Officer Jaime Orozco doesn’t have to venture far to find criminal activity—less than two miles from the police station, in fact, at the Plaza Motel on Union Ave. “These little hotels here, this is all infiltrated with a lot of drug use,” he says as he and his partner cruise past the bleached-white, single-story complex in their patrol car.

On this week’s Valley Edition: We take you on a ride-along with the Bakersfield Police Department’s gang unit as part of our ongoing series on opioids.  We watch arrests take place for drug possession, and learn why narcotics officers sometimes wear hazmat suits.

In Fresno, the city is debating liquor licenses. Why are there so many more in underprivileged neighborhoods? We also look inside a Propublica-Sacramento Bee investigation of the Fresno County jail.

Listen to those stories and more on the podcast above.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

This story is part of a series called In Recovery, about opioid addiction and treatment in the San Joaquin Valley. It was reported with the support of a 2018 Data Fellowship from the USC Center For Health Journalism.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Earlier in January, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office announced a case of a mistaken drug in Fresno. Three men who thought they were snorting cocaine turned out to have been using pure fentanyl, an opioid that’s 100 times as potent as morphine and many times stronger than heroin. Two of the men recovered, but one died.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

This story is the first in a series of reports called In Recovery, about opioid addiction and treatment in the San Joaquin Valley. It was reported with the support of a 2018 Data Fellowship from the USC Center For Health Journalism.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Law enforcement and health professionals in Fresno are reeling after three people overdosed last week on the opioid drug fentanyl. 

The men snorted what they thought was cocaine, said Fresno Deputy Police Chief Pat Farmer in a press conference on Monday. The three men, who took the drug together on January 7, felt something was wrong but fell unconscious and were discovered by a neighbor.

We’ve become more familiar with stories and reports about how widespread the opioid crisis has become, but what about the loved ones of those caught in addiction -- their family and friends? In her first book, Central Valley author Tina Hogan Grant writes about this from her own perspective. Her book is called, "Reckless Beginnings" and it’s based in part on her own life experience watching her sister suffer from a substance use disorder.

California Health Care Foundation

When it comes to addictive substances, opioids like heroin and fentanyl have in recent years been dominating headlines around the country. And rightly so: Nationally, the number of opioid overdose deaths more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2016. But as concerning and dangerous as opioids are, we shouldn’t forget about another addictive substance that’s long been known to disrupt lives: Alcohol.

Recent state data that had raised the alarm on opioid overdose deaths turns out to have been inaccurate. 

In late May, new data from the California Department of Public Health had pointed to an alarming trend: The number of Californians who died of overdoses due to the street drug fentanyl had tripled between 2016 and 2017. We reported on the problem here, as did other news outlets.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

*Correction as of June 15, 2018: The California Department of Public Health has announced that it initially overestimated the state’s overdose deaths due to fentanyl by a factor of two. While we originally reported 750 fentanyl-related overdose deaths statewide, the corrected total is 373 – an increase of 56 percent over the year before, not 300 percent. Likewise, Kern County reported 10 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2017, not 20.

Kerry Klein / KVPR

Host intro: Last week, we brought you a story about the San Joaquin Valley’s opioid epidemic, which manifests in inordinately high rates of painkiller prescriptions and hundreds of overdose deaths every year. This week, we explore three strategies that health officials and advocates are using to take aim at the problem. FM89’s Kerry Klein begins at a safe space for drug users.

For over 20 years, meth and heroin users from around Fresno County have relied on the Fresno needle exchange for free medical care and all the clean syringes they need.

Flickr User Sharyn Morrow

Recently, you may have heard a startling statistic: drug overdoses now kill more Americans than car accidents. For some years, the same holds true here in the San Joaquin Valley. The lion’s share of those overdoses are from opioids—street drugs and heavy-duty painkillers either derived from opium or made in a lab. Now, health officials are trying to prevent the problem from becoming worse.

California Endowment

New data from an on-going study about mortality rates in Central California reveals that alcohol, drugs and suicide are fueling significant increases in the mortality rate among white residents. The data are staggering: deaths from accidental drug poisoning in Fresno County are up over 200 percent since 1990, while suicides by hanging and strangulation are up over 120 percent in the region.

Virginia Commonwealth University, The California Endowment

Last year, U.S. life expectancy fell for the first time in over 20 years. At the same time, new data from four valley counties show that the death rate has increased particularly among whites. 

Over the last 20 years, the death rates among communities of color in the San Joaquin Valley have fallen. But at the same time, white death rates have notably increased, particularly for adults aged 40-64. Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University says opioid use is only partially to blame.

Kerry Klein/KVPR

The last time we reported about the Fresno Needle Exchange, it was an illegal program, operating without support from policymakers and under threat of police intervention. It became legal in 2012 under a state law. Now, the program is more popular than ever, and new research suggests it’s making the community safer.

Michael lives in north Fresno. He’s 56. He studied social work and he’s now self-employed. He has a daughter in nearby Dinuba.