Office for a Drug-Free Community Leads Efforts to Curb Opioid Deaths
In Orange County, more people died from opioid overdoses in 2022 than all other drug overdoses combined, and the importance of harm reduction — a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use — has never been more evident with the current nationwide opioid epidemic and fentanyl threat.
Harm reduction strategies are based on sound theory and academic research and draw from local expertise, and they are essential to Orange County’s comprehensive approach to addressing substance use disorders through prevention, treatment, and recovery — and empowering people to reach their goals through incremental change.
The Orange County Office for a Drug-Free Community is a resource center that endorses and leads these efforts. The office, which falls under the charge of the Orange County Health Services Department and encompasses the Orange County Drug-Free Coalition, takes a leadership role in prevention education, enforcement, treatment and recovery.
“Harm reduction emphasizes changing for good,” said Dr. Thomas Hall, director, Office for a Drug-Free Community, Orange County Health Services Department. “It’s a practical and transformative approach that incorporates community-driven public health strategies — including prevention, risk reduction, and health promotion — to empower people who use drugs (and their families) with the choice to live healthy, self-directed and purpose-filled lives.”
Prescription fentanyl — a highly potent synthetic opioid drug primarily used as an analgesic — is manufactured in extremely precise doses, and clinical providers carefully monitor its use. The potency of Illicit fentanyl on the street is unknown, even to the person mixing it. It is a case of trial and error, and the errors are too often fatal.
The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that 7 in 10 counterfeit prescription pills it seizes contain a lethal dose of illicit fentanyl. A key strategy for responding to opioid overdoses is making Naloxone readily available. Naloxone is a drug that neutralizes opioids, reverses possible fatal side effects and helps individuals breathe again.
“Our current priorities include preventing opioid overdoses by promoting access to Naloxone, providing information about treatment and recovery support, and providing education on state and local drug trends,” said Dr. Hall, who stressed the importance of building relationships in the community.
“We collaborate with community partners that engage with people who use drugs to prevent overdose and infectious disease transmission; improve physical, mental and social well-being; and offer low-barrier options for accessing health care services, including substance use and mental health disorder treatment.”