Santa Clara County gets windfall from opioid settlement
A small dose of fentanyl, such as the two milligrams pictured here, is enough to kill a person. Image courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    Santa Clara County is flush with millions of dollars from a nationwide opioid settlement. But how to spend it is still up for debate.

    Local health officials received $5.8 million from the first installment, with the potential for up to $48 million over the next 18 years. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors wants to focus these initial dollars on teens and young adults ages 15-30 and unanimously approved the funding last week. Some in the community want to see those dollars more widely distributed for the expansion of chemical dependency facilities, in addition to education, prevention and treatment.

    Scott Largent, a homeless advocate who has been clean for seven years, said he worries the county is too focused on prevention. He said more funding needs to be directed toward rehabilitation centers that can take young people out of an environment where they can access drugs.

    “It’s the same thing, you know, over and over again,” he said. “I’ve always said we need a rehab about the size of Costco, but they need a place where people can literally go that’s not outpatient.”

    The county wants to allocate $1.51 million to expand outpatient treatment in up to 27 high schools in high-risk areas and $1.08 million to expand youth substance disorder treatment facilities. Nearly $800,000 will be used to hire outreach workers and purchase 6,000 Naloxone kits and 12,000 fentanyl test strips to be placed in community spaces where drug use is prevalent. About $201,000 will be used to improve data analysis between the behavioral health and public service departments and $200,000 to enhance advertising campaigns.

    Zelia Faria Costa, director of the Children, Youth and Family System of Care for the county, said the goal of the outpatient program is to engage young people in school through a peer support program. The program would inform students about the dangers of taking drugs and provide a support system for students with an addiction.

    “We really need to spend the time and be thoughtful about how we work with young people, providing that time of engagement with them and then a warm handoff to a clinician that can do the treatment services,” she said at the recent meeting.

    The county, along with 3,000 other local governments nationwide, reached a settlement in 2021 with opioid manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals and other manufacturers and distributors for damages caused to communities from drug addiction.

    Over the last three years, fentanyl overdoses in Santa Clara County have increased 300%, according to officials. Supervisor Cindy Chavez said this year there have been 33 fentanyl-related deaths.

    Josh Selo, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center, has seen the effects of the opioid crisis firsthand. In the past four months, one of the youth receiving services from the center died from an opioid overdose.

    Selo, who has two young daughters, said he wants to see adults and schools regularly interact with children about the opioid crisis.

    “For me, it’s the after school staff at the YMCA, and the person who does the dance lessons at my kids’ middle school,” he told San José Spotlight. “These are the people who see my kids on a daily basis.”

    But Selo said educating adults in the community is just the first step to address the problem.

    “That’s just a minimum entry point,” he said. “We need to do so much more if we feel that we can appropriately combat this.”

    Chavez said she wants more involvement from pediatricians to help spot problems with addiction. She added she wants to learn from the data gathered during this first installment to plan for the next tranche of funding.

    “Part of what I want to make sure we’re doing is using the evidence that we’re gaining to quickly be able to respond to the needs of our community in the most effective way possible,” Chavez told San José Spotlight.

    The board of supervisors will finalize the use of funding in September.

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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