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How’s San Diego responding to increase in overdose deaths?

 May 13, 2022 at 12:44 PM PDT

S1: Overdose deaths are on the rise across the country and county.
S2: We also saw a really significant increase between 2020 and 21 , something just above 16%.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The story of a nurse helping patients 8000 feet in the air.
S3: Starting and being able to institute the therapies right at the scene. That is huge. So we make use of those valuable minutes that people have that make the difference between success and tragedy.
S1: Plus , look at what's happening on the art scene for your weekend preview. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a grim new record , according to new figures released earlier this week. More than 107,000 people died from overdoses in 2021 , an increasing majority of them opioid related. Here to tell us about how the problem is impacting San Diego is Luke Bergman , director of San Diego County's Behavioral Health Services Department. Welcome back to Midday Edition.
S2: Thanks so much , Jake.
S2: So this is something that we have known is a serious problem. It's something that we have known is going to require a sustained and innovative response. So we also saw a really significant increase between 2020 and 21 and something just above 16% in total accidental overdose deaths within the county of San Diego.
S1: Overdose deaths have been an upward trend now for decades , as you've mentioned.
S2: We're now in the midst of a third wave with maybe even sort of some fourth wave , which is really characterized by fentanyl and the massive expansion of fentanyl , first as a as a contaminant that was appearing in lots of other substances. So heroin was kind of initially and primarily. But then it's also been pressed into an array of what look like conventional pharmaceutical medications , including things like Xanax. And most recently , what we're seeing is actually the emergence of a cohort of folks who are seeking fentanyl. So people who are not exposed to fentanyl just through accidental contamination , but folks who would identify themselves as fentanyl users and and who are deliberately seeking out fentanyl as a substance of use.
S1: Because so many opioids and illicit drugs are laced with fentanyl.
S2: Right. It's you know , it's well understood , I think , as a as a kind of public health contaminant. But it poses challenges to a supply side approach , just generally , even if it's not being misrepresented as something else , it poses challenges to supply side or interdiction interventions because it is so powerful that very small amounts of it can have really significant impact on broad swaths of the community. It's it's colorless , it's odorless. It is very easy to transport illicitly , very easy to smuggle. And so it has really flummoxed what have been the kind of traditional supply side interdiction efforts to control illicit substances.
S1: Last month , the Biden administration announced its drug control plan prioritizing harm reduction.
S2: And it's maybe best known actually through efforts to address HIV and AIDS in the past century , where harm reduction interventions like the distribution of condoms were prioritized also in the midst of the AIDS epidemic without harm reduction effort was also emphasized and services like syringe service programs. So these are programs that , you know , as with condoms , there's an acknowledgment of the likelihood of continued sexual intercourse with addiction and substance use. It's really important to acknowledge that this is an incredibly challenging to address chronic illness and that what we need to do in the face of what we know is going to be likely relapse , likely ongoing use as people strive to enter into recovery. We need to do everything we can to reduce harms to those folks during those periods of initial and hopefully long term engagement. Harm reduction represents a very broad set of approaches that of course include syringe service programs , but also include socially supportive services , services like the distribution of naloxone , better known as as Narcan , which is a medication that reverses overdoses. And in fact , what we see and this is also from CDC. Data is that among people who enter harm reduction services , so people who engage with harm reduction services while still using drugs. There is a five times greater likelihood that those cohorts will end up entering formal treatment and wind up in long term recovery.
S2: Housing. We know that people who face substance use disorders are at some elevated risk for homelessness. And we know that access to housing has been particularly challenging for people with established substance use disorder. And public housing efforts have , by policy , historically excluded folks with self-possessed disorder. So we are really trying to address that through an array of new services , including service that we call safe havens , which is transitional housing for people with substance use disorder. And this is low threshold transitional housing meant for people with substance use disorder and really meant to carry a low threshold harm reduction approach and orientation.
S1: Just last month , it was reported San Diego saw 13 overdose deaths in the span of three days.
S2: We need to make naloxone as available and as easy to access as as condoms have been for a long time. That that would be an important step that likely could have an impact on the kinds of spikes in overdose deaths that you just mentioned. But to have sustained impact , we need to push more capacity for substance use care into mainstream health care. We need to make sure that housing is available both transitional as the safe havens that I've just described , but also long term and permanent supportive housing is available for people with substance use disorder. And we need to support a sustainable workforce and the County of San Diego to make sure that the services and programs and interventions that are going to make a difference are ones that we can keep offering to this community into the future.
S1: Luke Bergman is San Diego's director of Behavioral Health Services. Luke , thanks for having this conversation with us.
S2: My pleasure. Thanks so much.
S1: This week was National Nurses Week , and it put a spotlight on health care heroes. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman brings us the story of a nurse who works with patients 8000 feet in air.
S3: If you need us in anywhere in San Diego , we can respond.
S4: Meet Mercy Air Flight nurse Kelly Foreman.
S3: Godmother is up here.
S4: Colleagues call her the godmother of air medical services in San Diego.
S3: 24 hours a day , seven days a week. There's a resource that's just like this. And you wouldn't really know about us until it's your worst day of your life.
S4: For the last 27 years , she's been responding to emergencies all across Southern California in helicopters. We caught up with her at Mercy Air's Oceanside Base. They have multiple locations in the county ready to respond at a moment's notice.
S3: The pagers go off , the tones drop , and it can be anything from a motor vehicle accident. It could be someone having a heart attack out in the East County. It could be a drowning on the beach. And we have to be prepared to take care of everything.
S4: These helicopters are sort of like flying ambulances. Only they can do more. Each crew has a flight nurse and a paramedic or a physician on board. It's literally an intensive care unit in the air.
S3: This bag , we call it Bob big orange bag. It's £34 of emergency room right here and now on board.
S4: Crews carry a variety of medications and they're able to do transfusions mid-flight.
S3: This is the lifesaving stuff that , you know , you just don't really appreciate that's there. And that's that. We carry blood and we carry plasma.
S4: Every second matters when responding to emergencies. And typically , air crews get called to remote locations or to scenes where patients desperately need attention.
S3: Starting and being able to institute the therapies right at the scene. That is huge. So we make use of those valuable minutes that people have that make the difference between success and tragedy.
S4: During her years as a flight , nurse , Foreman has helped save thousands of lives. Some days are tougher than others , especially when she's the last person a patient sees.
S3: It's so easy by grabbing a hand and just reaching down and leaning down and saying , My name is Kelly , I'm going to be there for you. I am going to take you all the way to your next doctor. And sadly enough , sometimes I have walked all the way to the Lord , and that is a really tough place to be. But that's part of what we have to do. Sometimes people don't live , and you have to understand that it is it is the role of that person that is there with you to be that comfort and that strength when they don't have it. And and I don't know what is on the other side , but I know that I am going to be with you til you take your very last breath and you will not be alone. All right , kids.
S4: Part of Foreman's job is also helping to train resident physicians from UC San Diego Health. She loves what she does. And now 61 foreman doesn't have any plans to slow down.
S3: If I could go off of the passion in my heart , I would be here another 27 years.
S4: Foreman says to this day , she still gets the same adrenaline rush for every call. Matt Hoffman , KPBS News.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. This weekend in the arts , the Joffrey Ballet comes to town. A new solo play opens at the Old Globe. And there's a lot happening in the visual art world. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.
S2: Hi , Jade. Thanks for having me.
S1: So let's start with visual art at Bread and Salt Gallery in Logan Heights. There are multiple exhibitions opening Saturday night.
S2: It's the second Saturday Barrio Art Crawl. So they open up the space in the evening. Maharis Brewing Company will be on site in the courtyard. And this month , they've also timed a bunch of new exhibitions to open. Joe Yorty and Joe Cantrell have a new collaborative exhibition in the main bread and sort gallery space. And it's a mixture of found art and found sound. And one of the installations is a combination of Ken Charles found answering machine tapes with his collection of fake stone outdoor speakers. That's one example. At the Athenaeum Art Center , also in bread and salt , there's a group show featuring works on paper by Sage Serrano and Tijuana based artists Karolina Betancourt and Carla Dario. From what I've seen , this is all really unexpected uses of paper , sometimes rendered unrecognizable , and other times they use surprising materials like copper and patina to kind of paint on the paper. At best , practice artist Nikka Miller will open a solo show , and that includes some of his fiber art sculptures , where he sort of folds in and drapes the canvas. And in the break room , a presence out there is this exhibition of works by First-Year , MFA students that are from the UCSD Visual Arts Program. There are also a few exhibitions that have been opened a little while already on New Galaxias Big Tree sculpture. That's at Quint one James Brown's architectural exhibition at Not an Exit and Jamie Franks ephemeral site specific work at Ice Gallery is still on view and Ricardo Galvin has just begun his artist residency in the studio. So this is all a bread and salt in Logan Heights , and you can see it all Saturday night from 5 to 8.
S1: And at the Downtown Sparks Gallery. There's a new exhibition by painter Charlene Mosley.
S2: And this has manifested into this series of works. But it kind of parallels the labor of pollinators , which is largely underappreciated. She parallels that with the labor of women of color , which she says is also underappreciated and untold. Now , her paintings are really full of depth. There's there's vivid portraiture in these. And the women are surrounded by highly detailed birds or flowers , insects , butterflies. There's even a fox. And it kind of , for a split second kind of evokes this fairy tale princess and that trope of having an army of woodland creatures. But there is definitely a desperation or a curiosity and a sharp edge to these paintings. There is a reception from Moseley's exhibition , as well as the annual Sparks Gallery mini show. Those are all small paintings from a bunch of regional artists. That's all Sunday evening , from 5 to 8 p.m..
S1: And in the theater , the Old Globe is opening a solo one woman play called Marla. Tell us about this one.
S2: This is a play by Melinda Lopez , who is also the solo actress in the English language version of this play. It's based on her own lived experience being the caretaker for her Cuban immigrant mother as she approaches death. And the play centers on the sort of evolving grief and heartache in that process. The script's really approachable. It's funny. Everything's laid bare. And it also navigates the relationship between two sisters and how the differences in the way that they care for the mother and how that results in resentment between them. This weekend shows are 8:00 tonight , 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday , and it runs through June 22nd. They're also presenting this in a Spanish language version and you can find a list of the select dates for this Spanish performance on our website.
S1: Finally , the Joffrey Ballet is coming to town for one night only.
S2: Iconic Chicago based ballet company , and they're currently on a very brief West Coast tour. They're performing three works , including company choreographer Nicolas Banks , new ballet called Under the Trees Voices. They're also doing Liam Scarlett's 2013 work. That's kind of abstract and baroque feeling. And they're also doing a really high energy ballet called The Times Are Racing , which is described as a sneaker ballet. And the dancers do wear sneakers. It's set to Dan Deacon's experimental electronic composition America , which is sort of similar in that modern classical crossover , just like the style of the ballet. And their Joffrey Ballet performance is at the Civic Theatre on Saturday at 8:00.
S1: You can find details on these and more arts events or sign up for Julian's weekly KPBS Arts newsletter at KPBS dot org Slash Arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Thank you , Julia.
S2: Thank you , Jade. Have a good weekend.

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Overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a grim new record, according to new figures released earlier this week. How is this impacting San Diego County? Plus, the “godmother of air medical services in San Diego” shares what it’s like to be a flight nurse. And finally, weekend preview details visual art, experimental ballet and other arts and culture events happening this weekend in San Diego.