San Diego County Deploying Free Narcan Vending Machines to Help Combat Opioid Epidemic – NBC Bay Area

San Diego County will soon have a new weapon in its arsenal to help fight its growing problem with opioid addiction.

County officials are getting ready to install Narcan vending machines across the county. Narcan is a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The plan is to allow everyone in San Diego County to be a first responder during an overdose crisis.

“I overdosed when I was 19, then I overdosed a few years later and I got saved by Narcan,” said Nathan Smiddy, known affectionately as “Narcan Nate” because of his dedication to passing out the life-saving medicine in the North County .

Narcan vending machines are already in use in parts of Las Vegas and other cities across the country. The county plans to deploy at least a dozen in the region, with the first six being placed by the end of the year.

Ninety-one people in the US die every day from opioid-related overdoses, but there’s a tool that can reverse the effects of an overdose that more and more law enforcement agencies and paramedics are now carrying with them as part of their standing operating protocol. It’s called Narcan, and here is what you need to know about what it is, how it works and how to use it.

Ninety-one people in the US die every day from opioid-related overdoses, but there’s a tool that can reverse the effects of an overdose that more and more law enforcement agencies and paramedics are now carrying with them as part of their standing operating protocol. It’s called Narcan, and here is what you need to know about what it is, how it works and how to use it.

Smiddy, who’s contracted by the organization A New Path, applauds the effort to get free Narcan in people’s hands, especially because of the expense.

“You know how many of these people were getting prescriptions, and they got cut off by their doctor and so they’re in pain and they go to the streets to buy substances,” said Smiddy. “I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve seen lose their houses, they end up on the street and they start using methamphetamine just to stay up at night so they’re not robbed or assaulted.”

The contractor leading San Diego County’s Narcan vending machine effort said saving lives is the first step in controlling the problem.

“A very large majority of the people who I’ve engaged with have come back to me after their overdose reversal and told me this has been a life-changing experience,” said Tara Buesig-Stamos of the San Diego Harm Reduction Coalition. “What this allows is for people to get their lives in a space where they can make those positive changes. They can’t do it if they’re dead and everybody’s life does matter.”

There were nearly 900 opioid overdose deaths in San Diego County in 2021, according to health officials, a roughly 55% increase from 2020 when there were about 490. Across the US, there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths during 2021, an increase of nearly 15% of the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020.

Some critics argue providing Narcan enables opioid abusers to continue using without consequences. Nicole Esposito, San Diego County’s Chief Population Health Officer who’s also certified in psychiatry and addiction, says that thinking is obtuse.

“If somebody has diabetes and shows up with high sugars, we don’t withhold insulin and say maybe you should learn your lesson. When somebody is on the cusp of death, we are there, right? We never turn our back on anybody with a health condition,” said Esposito.

NBC 7’s Melissa Adan heard from Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and a man known as “Narcan Nate” about what’s changing in the fight against drug addiction.

The Narcan vending machines are part of a larger project to get about 33,000 Narcan kits into the hands of people across the county every year.

Funded mostly by the state of California to the tune of about $5.3 million, officials say it’ll help the county’s “Harm Reduction Strategy” that provides wrap-around services for opioid abusers.

Though county stats show the majority of abusers are white, experts say the death rate among American Indian/Alaska Native residents, as well as African Americans, is growing faster.

“If I hadn’t been saved, I wouldn’t be here today doing what I’m doing now,” Smiddy said.

With the help of Narcan and his own redemption story, Smiddy says he’s been able to help save hundreds of lives. Now vending machines could help even more people get a second chance.

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