Quick Take:

The Santa Cruz Surgery Center is partnering with the Health Improvement Partnership of Santa Cruz County and the county’s Health Services Agency to give physicians a kit including fentanyl antagonist naloxone for use in the community, and HIP is hosting an April 22 event at Cabrillo College where any county resident can pick up and learn more about Narcan.

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Dozens of local physicians will be equipped with emergency kits containing medicine that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses as part of a partnership among the Santa Cruz Surgery Center, the Health Improvement Partnership of Santa Cruz County and the county’s Health Services Agency to combat the region’s ongoing opioid crisis.

The project aims to give first aid kits, each containing two doses of naloxone, to 66 physicians from the surgery center (SCSC) and Dignity Health. The goal is for these doctors to be able to treat a potential overdose on the spot outside of work, said SCSC CEO Lisa Cooper.

“There are people out there that are doing good and trying to make a difference,” she said. “And that really is the case with our physicians.”

Cooper said she has seen an increase over the past two years of patients coming to the surgery center with a history of addiction. She said it is clear to her and to the rest of the organization’s physicians that access to resources like naloxone is vital, and that those resources need to be more prevalent in the community.

“Someone can call 911 if they see someone on the street in need, but time is of the essence. It’s like having an EpiPen for those that have severe allergies,” she said. “It’s just one way to put their energy into trying to make a difference in any way they can.”

The move is part of a coordinated effort to get more of the potentially life-saving medicine into the community as the opioid crisis persists. It was also sparked by news last week that a longtime San Jose police union executive had been charged by federal prosecutors for allegedly importing a version of fentanyl into the United States.

The idea began in preparation for National Doctors’ Day, which was Thursday. Cooper said that in late February, the center began thinking of ways to make more of an impact for the day of recognition.

Initially, SCSC tried to apply for a supply of Narcan — a brand of naloxone — through a state program. However, because the organization is a surgery center, it didn’t fit into the categories eligible for approval. But because the Health Improvement Partnership and the county public health department have operated drug-prevention programs, SCSC was able to partner with them and secure the medicine.

Cooper has personal experience with the drug addiction crisis. She said her son has struggled with addiction for about three years and that fostering awareness of just how widespread the issue is will lead to more people talking about it. “We’re all dealing with this,” she said. “Addiction doesn’t have an opinion about the kind of house you live in or the type of community you’re from.”

Although the Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan for over-the-counter sale just last week, the agency has not determined a price. But more local distribution is on the way.

On April 22 from noon to 4 p.m., HIP will host a free drive-thru event at Cabrillo College, where county residents of all ages can pick up a free dose of Narcan. Attendees can also park and walk to Lot R, where they can get information about how to teach youth about drugs, opioids and the local resources available.

But even as awareness rises, Cooper knows that the crisis is far from over. She plans to continue working with the state and urging the government to broaden its qualifications of which types of facilities can obtain naloxone through the state program: “Without the county and HIP supporting this project, we would not have been able to do it.”

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...