America is in the midst of a drug epidemic, and although Santa Barbara County rises above the masses in so many respects, when it comes to drug overdose and death, we dwell in the depths.

Last Saturday was International Drug Overdose Awareness Day, and we published an extensive report on one of this county’s most glaring, discouraging flaws — drug-related deaths and visits to emergency rooms continue to exceed the California average.

One might hope things would be different here in paradise. They are not. Last year there were 648 hospital drug visits recorded in the county. In fact, statistics on drug-related deaths and emergency room visits for the county released by the California Department of Public Health show that opioid-related trips to emergency rooms have risen steadily, more than 55 percent higher in 2018 than in 2010. That even includes a decrease in opioid-related visits in 2017, which county health officials can’t really explain.

We’ll take a stab at an explanation: Maybe the onset of an overdose-death epidemic scared some local residents. Or perhaps there wasn’t enough supply to meet demand.

There was a significant development at the end of 2017 and into 2018 — the county experienced a higher percentage of overdose deaths in which the synthetic opioid fentanyl was present. Last year, nearly 30 percent of opioid overdose deaths were related to fentanyl, up from 9% three years earlier.

Fentanyl is a good deal cheaper than heroin or cocaine, thus making it popular on the street. At the same time, fentanyl is more than 10 times more potent than heroin, and only a fraction of a fentanyl dose can be fatal compared to heroin.

Fentanyl’s street names include Apache, China girl, China town, China white, murder 8, jackpot, poison, TNT, Tango and Cash, and probably a dozen more. If you’re out for a stroll and you hear someone using those names, turn and run.

The body reacts to fentanyl much as it would to heroin. A feeling of euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, slowed breathing. Too much of those good things can quickly morph into nausea, vomiting, sweating. Then, if the dose is too high for the body to handle, there is a strong potential of dying, unless medical help arrives quickly. Thus, the 31 opioid-related overdose fatalities in the county last year.

Our opioid-overdose map of the county with that Saturday story showed the majority of cases in and around Santa Barbara, as one might expect, but there were concentrations of reported cases in the Santa Ynez Valley and in far North County as well.

The thing is, opioids and fentanyl are basically equal-opportunity killers. Just about anyone can afford to buy the drug, but unless you are a trained medical professional, once you put the dope in your system, you are flirting with oblivion.

If that sounds overly dramatic, we are just stating the facts, which are that opioid addiction, especially when fentanyl is involved, can and often does kill users.

Nearly four decades ago, First Lady Nancy Reagan started the “Just Say No” campaign, aimed at warning young people of the dangers of illegal drugs. The phrase did some good, but it clearly has not stemmed the tide of drug addiction, fueled by drug makers and cartels’ determination to make money.

So, this editorial is aimed at parents, asking — pleading — that you sit your kids down and talk to them about the realities of drugs, the potential for seriously bad health effects, and the harsh facts about dying of an overdose.

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