BY LUKE FRANKLIN
With opioid abuse on the rise throughout the U.S., Monterey is going through its own hardships separate from the 90 deaths per day due to opioid overdose nationwide, according to Dr. Casey Grover of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
Mike Casey, founder of the Bridge Restoration Ministries in Pacific Grove and a former heroin user for 20 years, was looking to make a change when he began the organization in 2006 to help people who struggle with any type of addiction. Clean for 15 years now, the former paramedic has a way to relate with addicts who were once like him.
Casey claims over half of the Bridge Restoration Ministries patients are opioid–related users and that 80 percent of the 36 BRM members come from the Monterey area.
Opioids can range from heroin to certain prescription drugs like Vicodin. The general addiction course for people in the Monterey area begins with the individual going through an injury, getting addicted to the temporary pain-blocker and then heroin, according to Casey. The withdrawals push some to steal pills to alleviate their addiction.
“You are either going to end up dead, homeless or in jail,” Casey adds. “I probably get, on an average day, five or six calls from county jail [regarding addicts of opioid-based drugs].”
In 2013, about one person every week was dying in Monterey County from a prescription overdose, according to the medical examiner-coroner in Monterey County.
However, Prescribe Safe Monterey County, a medication safety program, reports that there has been a 32 percent reduction in opioid deaths in Monterey County during the program’s first three years, according to the collaboration of nearly 20 agencies and organizations.
“At Community Hospital, [there has been] a 59 percent decrease in recurrent emergency department visits by people seeking opioid painkillers and nearly $1 million in savings treating those patients,” the Prescribe Safe reports.
This is great news for Dr. Casey Grover, who has seen the worst of the epidemic as a part of the emergency department in CHOMP.
“We were seeing routinely 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds addicted to prescription medications,” Grover says. “We were seeing families just torn apart by addiction. It was awful.”
Grover is alluding to a time before the Prescribe Safe initiative was created. The need for the program was extreme, which is why Grover and Dr. Reb Close came together along with their colleagues to make a change.
Casey says that when most people can no longer manage to get the money to buy the Oxycontin, go to heroin. “You steal a lot of what you can, and then you come to the point where you’re in Salinas or Seaside and you’re buying heroin,” Casey comments.
Sergeant Ron Pfleger of the Carmel Police Department comments that “[the Carmel PD] is not experiencing an opiate epidemic in Carmel-by-the-Sea, but [they] do arrest people with heroin and/or other illegal opiates from time to time.”
Due to reports of controlled substances being laced with one of the most addictive narcotics, Fentanyl, Pfleger added that officers began to carry a Narcan dispenser in each of their patrol cars, advocated for by Chief Paul Tomasi. This dispenser is a nasal spray used in emergencies of an opioid overdose.
This tool hasn’t been used in Carmel, but Pacific Grove Police Department Cmdr. Rory Lakind reports that officers had to use the Narcan dispenser on somebody enduring an opioid overdose on Aug. 30, the only time the tool has been used to date.
According to Casey, since prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet are generally more expensive than heroin, if the user is at the point where they have withdrawals from opioids and they need a fix, they take the fiscally easier path.
Proposition 47, passed in 2016, cut some of the former felonies that involved the personal use of most illegal drugs into misdemeanors
This sparked controversy over whether the government is turning its head away from some of the issues like the use of illegal drugs and letting it continue to be a recurring issue by citing and releasing the otherwise criminal, or if it is just simply a non-violent crime and considered non-serious. Many, like Casey, were not happy with the passing of this proposition.
In regard to the Prop. 47’s effect in Monterey, in addition to promoting certain crimes of grand theft and shoplifting, Casey says, “We are not addressing or fixing the problem, just making it legal.”