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Santa Barbara County reports uptick in overdose deaths

Posted at 6:48 PM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-08 22:31:34-04

Ninety-one people have died from drug overdoses in Santa Barbara County so far this year, with an estimated 50% of those linked to the highly addictive opioid fentanyl.

"I've been on the streets a long time and I care about everybody I come across. I feel robbed," said Alexander White Kurkowski, who is currently homeless.

He says just weeks ago, his partner lost his life to opioids.

"I woke up, I rolled over to check on him and he was already gone," Kurkowski said.

Only halfway through the year, the number of overdose deaths in Santa Barbara County is already at 70% of last year's total.

Bringing that number down remains an objective of newly re-elected Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown's Project Opioid.

"It is an operation to get everybody together in a variety of different communities to work to reduce the number of people dying from overdose deaths due to opioids and fentanyl," Sheriff Brown said.

"The fentanyl thing is real, man. You might try it one time and literally die and lose your life," added Loren Allen, who is also currently homeless.

Allen says he has traveled through numerous homeless communities in the county and has managed to stay clear of fentanyl.

Others say avoiding the opioid is much harder than it seems.

When asked how he's able to stay away from opioids like these, Kurkowski replied, "I'm not, to be honest with you. I'm not."

He says he and those he lives with have and use Narcan, an opioid emergency nasal spray, regularly when one of them experiences an overdose.

"When someone is overdosing, you give them Narcan and it jams up that receptor for 45 minutes to an hour and a half," Kurkowski noted. "When it wears off, they can slip back out if they have a sufficient amount of the drug in their system, but usually, just get them breathing and you wake them up."

The current data from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office shows almost twice a week, someone in the county dies due to drug overdoses, with 1,000 people saved from Narcan between 2018 and 2021.

Still, the County says the increase in overdose deaths has not been an issue seen only in Santa Barbara County, as California reported a 79% spike in overdose deaths since 2019.