The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department says the county has been experiencing an upward trend in drug-related emergency room visits and fentanyl-related deaths.
Since 2010, Santa Barbara County has had a higher rate of non-fatal drug-related emergency room visits compared to the state average. Close to 650 incidents were reported in 2018.
According to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, the number of emergency room visits related to opioid use has increased by 55 percent between 2010 and 2018.
In 2018, there were 69 drug-related deaths. Thirty-one of them were due to opioids.
In response, hospitals and doctors are using and prescribing opioids more conservatively.
According to the Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine Medical Director at Cottage Hospital, Dr. Paul Erickson, users will find other ways to get their fix.
"They buy pills on the street or they turn to heroin which is inexpensive, and so that population problem has been increasing even though prescribing has been going down," Erickson said.
Public health officials say one opioid in particular, fentanyl, has been linked to more deaths.
"We are seeing nationally, both in the state of California and across the country as well as locally, a growing proportion of opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl," said Santa Barbara Public Health Department Senior Epidemiologist Joy Kane. "So that is a concerning trend we want to pay close attention to."
The county has begun to implement harm reduction strategies to address the growing issue by facilitating medication-assisted treatments, needle exchange programs, providing greater access to naloxone as well as fentanyl strips which users can use to test their drug supply to see if it is contaminated with fentanyl.
Dr. Erickson said Cottage Hospital has been able to address the issue thanks to substance abuse counseling they are able to provide to patients if needed when they are admitted.
They've also partnered with neighborhood clinics to continue providing treatment once patients with an addiction are discharged.