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SLO Co. Sheriff's Office reporting increase in overdose deaths

Posted at 11:25 PM, May 29, 2020

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office has reported an increase of overdoses in the last several months.

The first four months of this year, the sheriff's office says there's been nine overdose deaths. In the same time last year, that number was zero -- which is now raising concern as to why there's been an uptick.

One of the main reasons for the increase has been the use of fentanyl.

"A very small amount -- as much as two milligrams -- can be a fatal dose, and so it's very easy to abuse it or to overdose on it without intending to do so," said James Taylor, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy.

Deputy Taylor says fentanyl can be used to treat pain in cancer patients and palliative care, but its illegal use is proving deadly.

Deputies are seeing it mixed with other drugs or being used in place of and sold as another drug.

As was the case, they say, with 22-year-old Timothy Wolfe of Paso Robles. The sheriff's office says he sold an Atascadero teen fentanyl pills. The teen reportedly thought he was buying percocet and died after taking just one pill. Wolfe now faces murder charges.

Deputy Taylor says it's too soon to tell if the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic are causing the uptick in drug overdose deaths. "I don't think that the data that we're seeing at this time either proves or disproves a correlation to the shelter at home order," said Taylor.

Local Tenet Health hospitals also say they've seen an increase of mental health patients since the coronavirus pandemic started, but they can't disclose the reasons for their visits.

"Certainly the quarantining at home can have a major effect on people," said June Paternaude, a registered nurse at the Tenet Health Central Coast Emergency Department. "[For] people who already may have some mental health issues it is a really difficult thing."

The sheriff's office says its narcotics unit has worked a number of cases involving drug trafficking and fentanyl and that there are current investigations underway regarding these type of incidents.