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International Overdose Awareness Day Vigil to Honor Victims, Families

In recognition that Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, there will be a vigil in Santa Cruz to coincide with events and activities planned around the world and throughout the United States, including in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Eureka, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego.

Communities across the country are impacted by our public health epidemic. National drug overdoses have reached an all time high of 72,000 annually, according to the CDC, surpassing deaths attributed to HIV, car accidents and guns.

Locally, we are seeing a promising shift in overdose rates. According to Dr. Stephany Fiore, Chief Forensic Pathologist with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff, in 2016, Santa Cruz County experienced 53 drug overdoses. In 2017, Santa Cruz County experienced a 15 percent reduction to 45. Recent data collected reveals we are seeing changes in prescribing practices locally and our number of prescriptions being written is decreasing.

SafeRx Santa Cruz County, Community Prevention Partners, and the Harm Reduction Coalition have collaborated to address Substance Use Disorder prevention, including shifts in opioid prescribing practices and pain management; reducing stigma to increase access to treatment; and Naloxone distribution to reverse an opioid overdose. The result of this collaboration has been increased awareness to decrease prescription access by safely securing and disposing of unused prescriptions. We have improved access to opioid reversal medication through various avenues, such as the County Syringe Services Program and local pharmacies. The Sheriff has collaborated with Janus to make Narcan available upon release from jail when risk of overdose is greater.

“Unlike other medical diagnoses, stigmas about substance use disorders are so powerful that they actively prevent those in need from pursuing treatment opportunities,” said Shaina Zura, Chief of Substance Use Disorder Services for Santa Cruz County. “We can make a choice in our community to reverse this pattern, creating compassionate, welcoming and empowering messaging which supports those around us to seek care.”

Dr. Jennifer Hastings, a leader in SafeRx Santa Cruz County notes, “We have truly come together in Santa Cruz to address the opioid epidemic. Through our efforts at SafeRx Santa Cruz, we have made a difference. Prescribing practices have changed. Medical providers are writing fewer opioid prescriptions and medical and mental health providers are working together with other practitioners to find alternatives for pain management. Safe storage and disposal of medications is easier thanks to the work of Community Prevention Partners. The most recent data shows a 51% decrease in opioid deaths from 2016 to 2017. We are not giving up. There is hope for our loved ones and for our families. “

It is important to hold people with dignity and non judgmental care until they are ready to make a permanent life change. Fentanyl test strips, and opioid reversal medication empowers the user to make the best possible health decisions that are life saving in that moment. On International Overdose Awareness Day, we express appreciation and want to thank all the first responders and the substance users and their community who are administering Naloxone and saving lives. Overdoses are preventable. These are real people who are loved and need our support with no strings attached.


WHAT: Vigil to honor lives lost to overdose

WHO: Friends and family members affected. Event open to the public

WHEN: 5:30 p.m., Friday August 31

WHERE: Meet at the Santa Cruz County Courthouse, 701 Ocean Street.

Walk to San Lorenzo Park to gather for hearing speakers share hope and healing.

Naloxone trainers will be on site to educate and distribute.

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