DEA investigating second death at Veterans Village of San Diego
Another resident at San Diego’s esteemed rehab center for veterans has died of a suspected fentanyl overdose, prompting a second death investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
On Tuesday evening, a client at Veterans Village of San Diego’s drug treatment program died on the campus. The name of the resident has not been released to the public.
The DEA’s Overdose Response Team visited the treatment center that night to start investigating. The DEA could not provide specific details about the incident but said its officers typically look for fentanyl supply sources and collect evidence for prosecution.
Thursday morning, Veterans Village leadership brought drugs dogs onto the campus to search for illicit substances — a move that staff and residents had been requesting for many months as concerns about drug use on the property have intensified.
No drugs were found during the search, Veterans Village officials confirmed. The nonprofit is now conducting its own internal investigation to figure out how the overdose victim may have gained access to an illegal drug.
Residents said they were relieved to see the canines arrive at the treatment center and are hopeful that leadership is finally responding to their complaints and committed to making improvements. Some clients cheered as the drug dogs walked through the campus, thanking staff members and recent media coverage for calling attention to their concerns.
The death came days before Veterans Village’s premier annual event, Stand Down, which is being held Friday through Sunday at Roosevelt Middle School near Balboa Park. The event provides homeless veterans with food, clothing, legal support, medical services and other resources.
Stand Down has been replicated in hundreds of cities and endorsed by the Veterans Administration, dignitaries and two U.S. presidents.
San Diego County is home to the third-most veterans of any county in the nation, according to data from the Census Bureau. Veterans Village was created in San Diego 40 years ago to help former service members with addiction, employment and housing. The nonprofit operates with a $22 million annual budget, including more than $17 million in federal, state and local government funding.
The residential rehab center on Pacific Highway, which has admitted non-veterans since 2018, is a closed campus. Clients are supposed to stay on the grounds during their treatment, typically around three to six months, unless they are given a pass to leave.
State and federal regulations require treatment centers to keep their facilities free from illicit substances for the safety of residents and staff. Although drugs and alcohol are not permitted at Veterans Village, an inewsource investigation in June found that clients have struggled to stay sober because of the prevalence of drugs on the property.
Some residents reported relapsing in the face of frequent triggers, and staff said they feared for their clients’ safety. Employees and residents repeatedly told management about their concerns but said nothing was done to address them.
After a resident died in his room in April, the DEA launched its first investigation into a possible fentanyl overdose at Veterans Village. That investigation is ongoing. Days later, the San Diego County Probation Department suddenly removed its clients from the property, saying it was in their “best interest,” and stopped referring probationers to the rehab center.
Another death that occurred on the campus in January is still under review by the county Medical Examiner’s Office. The cause of death has not been confirmed.
Addiction is a complicated disease with many factors influencing the success of treatment, and the likelihood of relapse is high. Overdoses and deaths are on the rise inside and outside treatment centers, largely due to the opioid epidemic and the potency of fentanyl.
“It is widely known that fatal fentanyl overdoses have reached epidemic levels across the country and San Diego is no exception,” said Akilah Templeton, chief executive officer of Veterans Village.
In a statement, Templeton said the nonprofit is working with San Diego County representatives to help conduct its internal investigation.
“Any loss of life from drug overdose is a tragedy, and our thoughts and condolences are with the resident’s family and loved ones,” she said.
Veterans Village of San Diego is holding its 35th annual Stand Down event this weekend. The event provides food and medical care, legal assistance, employment support, housing referrals and even haircuts to veterans and veteran families experiencing homelessness.
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