Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 @ 4:27 p.m.

Del Norte Dispenses More Opioid Prescriptions Than All But Five Other California Counties, Telemedicine Provider Finds

Narcan can reverse an opioid overdose. | Photo courtesy of the Yurok Tribe

Del Norte County is No. 6 on a list of counties that dispense the most opioids in the State of California.

Del Norte’s opioid dispensing rate is 56.1 per 100 people, making it 96.8 percent higher than the state average and 29.6 percent higher than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control compiled and analyzed by the telemedicine company Ophelia.

Del Norte’s opioid dispensing rate ranked higher on Ophelia’s list than Humboldt County, which came in ninth place, and Siskiyou County, which was No. 8.

The opioid dispensing rate for Mendocino and Shasta counties outpaced Del Norte’s, with those counties ranking fifth and fourth respectively on Ophelia’s list.

California’s overall dispensing rate was 28.5 per 100 people and the national rate was 43.3 per 100 people, according to a Stacker Media article Friday.

“Predominantly white towns and small cities often see the highest rates of opioid pain prescriptions, according to the CDC,” Ophelia writer Emma Rubin reports on the provider’s blog

According to Rubin's article, 645,000 people have died from opioid-related overdoses between 1999 and 2021, according to the CDC. Opioid prescriptions have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. According to the most recent data, the national opioid dispense rate was 43.3 per 100 people in 2020, the lowest ever recorded. However in 2020, synethic opioids such as fentanyl accounted for 82 percent of all opioid related deaths.

"A 2022 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that counties with higher dispensing rates had more cases of opioid misuse and dependence," Rubin wrote. "The study suggested that reducing prescriptions at the local level can lower a community's rate of opioid abuse or misuse."

Though she hadn’t seen the recent list, Ophelia’s findings are in line with 2021 prescription rate data on the California Opioid Surveillance Dashboard, said Jermaine Brubaker, founder of Rx Safe Del Norte.

“We are No. 5 in the state, so I think that matches with what (Ophelia) has with the prescription rate,” she said. “We are well above the state average, but there are also quite a few other (counties) that are well above the state average.”

In addition to starting Rx Safe Del Norte in 2017, Brubaker is part of a local team participating in the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Reaching Rural Initiative. She noted that after starting Rx Safe Del Norte there had been a big dip in the county’s prescription rate until 2021.

“We were still kind of going along with the state average,” she said. “We were high, but we worked really hard on prescription (abuse). I’m not sure where the new prescriptions are coming from.”

Brubaker and other members of the Reaching Rural Initiative’s Del Norte County Team will give a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. They will also take part in a community listening session focusing on poverty from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the McNulty House, 710 H Street in Crescent City.

In addition to Brubaker, the local Reaching Rural team includes District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey; Yurok Associate Judge William Bowers II; Del Norte Superior Court Judge Darren McElfresh; Del Norte Health and Human Services Director Ranell Brown; Shiann Hogan, Del Norte’s behavioral health program manager; and public defender Elly Hoopes.

Brubaker said the local initiative’s goal is to get medicated-assisted treatment and possibly harm reduction services in Del Norte County.

“We don’t have methadone in the community. For those who prefer methadone, or it works better for them, they travel to Humboldt,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to serve people in this community and increase treatment. We don’t have enough providers in the area.”

Del Norte County is No. 2 in the state for opioid-related deaths, according to 2022 per capita data on the California Opioid Surveillance Dashboard. The state’s least populated county, Alpine, is No. 1, Brubaker said, pointing out that the data shown per 100,000 residents.

“Del Norte is No. 2 in the estate for Native America-Alaskan deaths, we’re No. 2 for Hispanic deaths and No. 2 for all opioid-related deaths,” she said.

Del Norte County ranks No. 1 in the per capita number of opioid-related among children under age 5. Brubaker said that number is most likely due to accidental exposure.

“Fentanyl is so potent it wouldn’t take much for a child to have a very strong overdose reaction to it,” she said.

When she started Rx Safe Del Norte, Brubaker said much of the opioid-related deaths involved prescriptions and occurred in the elderly population. Now, she said, an increasing number of 20-24 year-olds and 25-29 year-olds are showing up in the data for the first time in more than a decade.

“We’re still seeing overdoses in prescription (opioids). I don’t know if they’re getting pills and reporting that as a prescription or if people are taking more prescription drugs,” Brubaker said. “I’m surprised about the prescription rates. I want to dive into that a little bit more.”

One option the local Reaching Rural Initiative team is exploring is a mobile medicated assisted treatment program for Del Norte.

They’re also hoping to explore harm reduction options for people who may not be ready to kick an opioid addiction, Brubaker said. She mentioned kiosks, or vending machines, where people can access Naloxone, which prevents overdoses, fentanyl test strips and information on potential treatment options locally.

Brubaker added that people who access harm reduction services are more likely to seek treatment on their own.

"People don't plan to be an addict," she said. "It's hard for people to seek recovery. It's hard to go through detox, and if they need residential treatment over outpatient treatment, they're going to have to leave the area. If they have kids, what's that going to look like? There are a lot of barriers to treatment and we want to make sure people are happy and healthy where they're at."

In addition to receiving an update on the local Reaching Rural Initiative involvement, Del Norte County supervisors will hear a presentation focusing on the opioid settlement agreement.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday. For an agenda packet and a link to the Zoom meeting, click here.


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