California Confronts Overdose Epidemic Among Former Prison Inmates

by | May 10, 2023 | Health

Michael Vera walked into a bedroom of a residential drug treatment program in Los Angeles in March to find its occupant slumped over on his bed and struggling to breathe, a homemade straw on the floor beside him and tinfoil with what appeared to be drug residue under his body.

The 35-year-old overdose victim had been out of custody less than 48 hours, in the midst of a frequently fatal danger zone: Individuals newly released from prison are 40 times as likely to die of opioid overdoses as members of the general population, researchers say.

But he was one of the lucky ones, because Vera was among tens of thousands of California inmates to receive training in overdose prevention and resuscitation when he was released from state prison in 2020. He was given two doses of Narcan to take with him, part of California prisons’ attempt to arm every departing inmate with overdose-reversal medication.

Vera and his roommate quickly summoned staff members. Paramedics administered two jolts of Narcan, a brand-name version of the drug naloxone. That stabilized the patient enough to get him to a hospital, where he soon recovered.

More than 80% of inmates released in California between April 2020 and June 2022 departed with antidote kits and the training that goes with them, according to a January …

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