Colyn Heimerman, AmeriCorps VISTA training at Marin HHS wellness campus

Marin gets $800K annually to target overdose prevention

By KERRI BRENNER / Marin Independent Journal

Marin County is set to receive $800,000 annually for nine years from a settlement with pharmaceutical companies, officials said this week.

The county, which has an average of one resident dying from an accidental drug overdose almost every week, will use the money to expand Marin’s overdose prevention staffing network; beef up supplies of the overdose-reversal nasal spray Narcan; and engage additional substance use treatment providers, Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said.

“About every five days, on average, we lose someone to a drug overdose,” Willis told the Marin Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Accidental drug overdose is the third most common cause of death in Marin for those under 75, after cancer and heart disease.”

Marin had between 60 and 70 overdose deaths in 2022 — the final number is still under investigation by the Marin County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Division — and 65 in 2021. That is double the 30 deaths in 2018, and triple the 17 overdose deaths in 2015, Willis said.

The huge increase is attributable to the rising proliferation of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, is added by illicit manufacturers to other opioid pain relievers, and to fake pills that look like “safe” prescription drugs such as Percocet or Xanax. Even a small dose of fentanyl can kill within a few minutes.

OD Free Marin, a broad coalition dedicated to reducing the risk of drug overdoses, is working to turn that trend around, Willis told the county board. The coalition coordinates countywide strategies and includes Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Public Health, health care providers, schools, and community members.

“We’re coordinating a new infrastructure aimed at reversing this crisis,” Willis said. “Our goal is to flatten the curve — just like we did with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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