Santa Clara County scores millions to tackle opioid crisis
Santa Clara County is getting $11 million in federal grant funding to address the region's opioid crisis. Photo by Julia Forrest.

    A multi-million-dollar grant is going to help arm Santa Clara County in its fight against opioids.

    The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is receiving more than $11 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deal with the region’s opioid crisis. The funds will be used to collect data, ensure clinicians use best practices in prescribing opioids, substance use treatment and overdose prevention.

    Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said the grant validates the county’s efforts, which will collaborate with its health and community partners on enhancing chemical dependency services and reducing overdoses. The county has also been tapped to receive an additional $48 million in funding from a nationwide opioid settlement, Ellenberg said.

    “We have to hit it on every front … involving the whole of the county response, much in the way we did with COVID,” she told San José Spotlight. “We’re going to use that money to really expand and open up new resources to address substance use disorders.”

    In Santa Clara County, the number of opioid overdose deaths have more than tripled since 2018, increasing from 61 to 195 in 2022, according to data from the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner.

    Gary Montrezza, CEO of Pathway Society, a substance use and counseling treatment organization, said anything that connects treatment programs, homeless residents and services is beneficial in stopping fentanyl poisoning.

    “The data will be helpful in driving decisions in how to connect these things together,” he told San José Spotlight. “The real issue is certainly the harm reduction and education piece, and with that, building credibility and trust with various populations to hopefully integrate them into some form of treatment and additional care.”

    Dr. Sarah Rudman, the county’s deputy health officer, said the funding will provide agencies with needed information, support and resources.

    “A new problem over the last several years is the rise of fentanyl and how fentanyl’s not only in street drugs, but in pills,” she told San José Spotlight. “That means that folks who previously were never impacted … need our support.”

    Rudman said there is stigma around those struggling from substance use, which makes it harder for these individuals to reach out.

    “The way we sometimes demonize drugs, and therefore the people who use them, makes it much harder for folks to ask for the help they need,” she said. “We’re working hard not only to make sure that those services exist, but that the community’s ready to have conversations about substance use.”

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the funding windfall ensures pediatricians and primary care physicians are trained on addiction medication so they can spot someone who needs help and connect them with services. She said for those wanting treatment, a same day response is critical.

    “My father was an alcoholic, so I know when somebody’s ready to get treatment, if the treatment’s not there, you can miss that window of opportunity,” she told San José Spotlight.

    Chavez said the county wants to ensure people have access to naloxone kits, which are effective in reversing overdoses. She’s proposing that VTA add kits to buses, light rail trains and transit centers. Naloxone is going to be available in pharmacies starting today for about $45. Chavez said the cost is too high and wants to offer it for free throughout the county.

    “My hope is that we stop losing lives to this terribly drug,” she said. “I don’t want to see us lose another young person or any person. I don’t want to see us lose more lives.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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