In 2018, more than 5,300 people in California died from a drug overdose, the most of any state in the country. There were 650 more deaths in California than in Florida, the state with the second highest number, and close to 4,500 more deaths than in West Virginia, the state with the highest rate of overdose fatalities. These numbers are partly explained by the sheer size of California, but in more densely populated areas, like the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco and Skid Row in Los Angeles, overdose fatality rates rival those in any city or state in the country. California, in other words, remains mired in an overdose epidemic that continues to kill thousands while policymakers leave proven solutions unused.
The situation has been further complicated by COVID-19, which has forced already vulnerable populations into even more precarious circumstances. The pandemic has wrought economic devastation, disrupted access to medical and other harm-reduction treatments, and severed social networks. Under the strain of these compounding health and economic crises, and with the dangers of increased isolation, it is unsurprising that authorities across the country are reporting a surge in overdose fatalities.
A bill pending in the state legislature, AB 362, is a step in the right direction to save lives in California.