Opioids and San Diego County

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs either derived from, or chemically similar to, compounds found in opium poppies. Opioids include legal prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and others. Heroin is also an opioid. Some street terms for opioids include Ocs, Oxy, perks, and vics. Heroin can also be called smack, junk, black tar, and horse.

Prescription opioids can be used appropriately, as prescribed by a doctor. They can also be misused by crushing the pills and then inhaled or injected. Heroin can be inhaled, injected, or smoked.

Opioids bond to opioid receptors in the human body and brain, blocking pain. In addition to providing pain relief, opioids produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation - especially when misused (taking the wrong dosage, or using without a prescription). Side effects of opioids can include nausea, confusion, and depression. Opioids also quickly build both tolerance and physical dependence, which can lead users to take larger and larger doses in order to feel the same relief. This can lead to addiction and overdose.

What is the Problem?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. has quadrupled in the past 15 years, even though there has been no change in the amount of pain American patients report. In 2013, health care workers wrote enough opioid prescriptions for every adult American to have their own bottle of pills.

Moreover, in 2014, 6 out of 10 overdose deaths involved an opioid. And, at least half of those opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid specifically.

According to the San Diego County 2016 Medical Examiner’s Annual Report, opiates were the second leading cause of accidental deaths in San Diego County.

What is the Answer?

With this increase in deaths by opiates, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has been in the forefront of opiate abuse awareness. We started the Naloxone Project, which was the first of its kind by a law enforcement agency in the Western United States, and was possible because of California legislation (AB-635). This allowed first responders to possess and administer Naloxone, also known as Narcan. Naloxone is a pure opiate antagonist and prevents, or reverses the effects of opioids including respiratory depression, sedation and hypotension. Opiates even in small doses, can be lethal and Naloxone can immediately reverse the lethal effects of an opiate overdose.

However, law enforcement officers are frequently the first responders at a scene, yet didn't have the legal authority to administer Naloxone – only medical first responders could. The San Diego Sheriff's Department took the initiative and worked with state legislators in 2014, to pass a new law (SB-1438) which specifically allowed law enforcement officers to administer Naloxone.

The Naloxone Project began as a pilot, and now all deputies in field service and specialized investigations carry Naloxone. It is also readily available for overdose emergencies in our detention facilities.

In the first four years that the San Diego County Deputy Sheriffs began using Naloxone, it was administered it more than 70 times and has saved 60 lives.

Go to the Root of the Problem

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has also implemented a new overdose-response protocol. When deputies respond to a suspected drug overdose death, they call our Special Investigations Division (SID). These specialty-trained detectives will conduct an investigation and follow all available leads related to the narcotic source, in order to make an arrest of the drug dealer. This new protocol is designed to not only hold dangerous drug dealers accountable, but to remove dangerous drugs from our communities where they may harm others. As of this writing, SID detectives have responded to more than 30 overdose calls and six arrests have been made as a result; with several suspects still under investigation.

Prescription Collection Boxes

Prior to the Naloxone Project, it was known that many people who became addicted to opioids are first exposed to the drug through prescription medication. Sheriff Gore sought a safe method for people to discard their unwanted prescription medications, and Prescription Drug Collection Boxes were established in all our facilities in 2010. These boxes have been so successful; the Sheriff’s Department has collected more than 47 tons of unwanted prescription drugs. To put this into perspective, a Boeing 737 weighs 50 tons.

One Life at a Time

With this multi-faceted and collaborative approach built around removing unused dangerous prescription drugs from our medicine cabinets, rescuing overdose victims and getting them to treatment, as well as arresting/prosecuting those who traffic in dangerous and illegal drugs, we are making San Diego County safer from drug deaths - one life at a time.

Seniors in Crisis

The San Diego Sheriff's Department has long understood the importance of caring for our most vulnerable populations. One of those groups is our senior citizens. It's been said by many people that a nation is judged by how it treats its weakest and most helpless citizens. The Sheriff's Department believes this to be true and understands that some of our elderly suffer from conditions that cause them to be confused and act in ways that may be violent or unsafe for those around them.

There are times when law enforcement is called to help a family whose parent or grandparent is acting in ways they cannot control. Due to the nature of those actions, it may be necessary to make an arrest because crimes have been committed. As many can imagine, a jail setting and all of the processes that necessarily occur when a person is arrested, can be quite distressing and/or mentally difficult for a senior in crisis.

The Sheriff's Department has partnered in an initiative led by San Diego County Supervisors Diane Jacob and Kristin Gaspar, along with Health and Human Services, the District Attorney's Office, Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, Sharp Grossmont, and the Grossmont Health Care Team, to help steer individuals when it is possible, to the appropriate counseling and health care.

County officials expect the number of seniors in our communities to rise and calls to the Sheriff's Department related to elder abuse, elder scams, as well as seniors in crisis situations involving dementia and Alzheimer's disease to increase.

The Sheriff's Department is committed to treating our elderly and most vulnerable populations with the respect and care they deserve. Our most recent partnership with the Seniors in Crisis initiative is just one example of that.

Sheriff Gore in Jail (For a very good cause)

On Tuesday, November 28th, Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan, and County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar volunteered to 'go to jail' at the Westfield UTC mall to help raise money to support Second Chance.

Founded in 1993, Second Chance strives to ensure all members of our community have the means to achieve self-sufficiency, regardless of age, race, or criminal history. In other words, whether one struggles with addiction, incarceration, homelessness, has a family history of criminal behavior, or gang involvement, or just made a wrong turn in life, Second Chance helps people find their way to a positive, successful future.

Sheriff Gore is a board member of Second Chance and realizes a second chance can disrupt the cycles of incarceration and poverty by helping people find their way to self-sufficiency and independence.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department also participates through a contract with the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Probation. Reentry Works is the first in-custody job center in San Diego County aimed at helping inmates gain the job skills necessary to make a successful transition to the working world upon their release. Participants learn about proper interview skills, resume composition, and Internet job search techniques; all resources that augments the life skills they receive while in jail.

Sheriff Gore, District Attorney Stephan, and Supervisor Gaspar were 'bailed out' on November 28th to celebrate Giving Tuesday, a day recognized globally and dedicated to charity.

For more information on Second Chance, please visit www.secondchanceprogram.org.

HOT East County

In 2013, Sheriff’s Deputies began to see an increase in calls for service to homeless people in the East County. These calls for service relating to homeless individuals accounted for as much as 10 percent of all calls the Sheriff’s Department received in the Santee area in 2014. It was estimated more than 750 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people lived within the East County at that time, and the calls for service ranged from the homeless being victims of crime, to mental health issues, and at times, criminal activity related to substance abuse. The Santee Sheriff’s Station recognized there could be better outreach to the homeless populations in East County. With the support of Sheriff Bill Gore, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, and the City of Santee, the Sheriff’s Department reached out to other allied agencies and created an entity to specifically address homeless issues.

It’s called the East Region Homeless Outreach Team or East HOT in partnership with the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), and the El Cajon Police Department. “Public safety is for all,” Sheriff Bill Gore has said. “It makes no difference who you are, or your status in life. If assistance is needed, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department partners with these agencies to ensure everything that can be done for our residents will be done.”

This is not a hand-out to those in need, but a hand-up. The goal is not just removal from the streets, but helping people out of homelessness.

The East HOT began in August of 2015, and has had contact with hundreds of homeless people in Santee, Lakeside, and El Cajon. The team offers a range of services; everything from ponchos and blankets to drug rehabilitation, withdrawal help, shelter beds, housing, food, healthcare, and job assistance, to help those without homes to rebuild and reclaim their lives. The HOT operates weekly and seeks out homeless individuals who are living on the streets, in order to provide them with appropriate services and support.

It is not surprising for people to decline the services being offered. East HOT is about a long and sustained approach to build bridges, one conversation at a time. Deputies talk to the homeless and learn about their stories to establish a relationship. This connection plants a seed of trust for the next encounter, which is critical in convincing people to accept services or de-escalate a situation when they are in crisis.

Homelessness is not a crime. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department believes those who are homeless are our neighbors - and neighbors help each other. The program is a problem-solving approach to address complaints associated with homelessness such as public intoxication or loitering. This team has a goal to stop the revolving door of the homeless through the jail by connecting them with services to regain their footing.


On Tuesday, November 21, 2017, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore presented Game Changer with a check for $10,000.

Game Changer was developed under its parent 501(c) (3), "Embrace'. Game Changer is a behavioral, psychology-based model that utilizes sports to create a safe space for moderated communication between community members and law enforcement.

Game Changer operates under the premise that healthy relationships – to include open lines of communication between law enforcement and the community – are highly correlated with overall lower crime rates and lower incidents of violent interactions between the two. Toward that end, discussion forums are organized between community members, to include university students, student athletes, professors, and those who advocate for social justice, and members of local law enforcement in a neutral venue. Meals are served and candid, respectful dialogue is encouraged by all parties. While a 'meeting of the minds' might not take place, each person respects the ideas and opinions of each other. As George R. R. Martin explained, "Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle." Afterward, the entire group attends a sporting event or concert and enjoys each other's company.

Participation and support of programs such as Game Changer serve the Sheriff's Department mission to foster and maintain good relationships between the varied communities we serve and our department. Through involvement in these community endeavors, good will is promoted and when crisis situations occur, the avenues for calm discussion are already open.

Accepting the check by Sheriff Gore on behalf of Game Changer, is Sean Sheppard.


San Diego County continues to have one of the lowest crime rates in the country. The Sheriff's Department leads the county with information-led policing strategies, employing 33 analysts who inform decision-making. This analytical and evidence-based process creates a framework that supports our policing efforts by strategically directing resources to areas where we can most effectively reduce crime.


Community outreach is a top priority of the Sheriff's Department. Among our many programs, deputies serve as counselors to students in the East County to foster understanding between law enforcement and the community. Camp LEAD challenges students to look outside themselves to become positive change on their campuses, and in their neighborhoods, by teaching them skills to help improve the communities in which they live. This worthwhile and successful program will soon be in other parts of the county, facilitated by Sheriff's Deputies.

The RESPECT Project is a character building and mentoring program designed for teenage youth. Currently serving the North County region, the RESPECT Project was developed in 2014, by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. The program is a 16-week commitment aiming to reduce juvenile delinquency, lower recidivism, and offer alternatives to street gangs, substance abuse, and a life trapped in the criminal justice system. In addition to weekly classes and mentoring, the RESPECT Project also partners with health community groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations to supplement the program and further enrich the students' personal lives.

The Sheriff's Department partners with community groups, the Health and Human Services Agency and the cities we serve in Homeless Outreach throughout the county. Every week, deputies and our partner agencies locate homeless in our communities, and offers them services, not as a hand out, but as a hand up. Our efforts will continue to grow and expand as we connect with the larger regional problem of homelessness.


The State of California efforts to reduce prison populations substantially increased the Sheriff's Department burden, as it relates to housing criminals in San Diego County. Due to the shift in housing inmates from state prisons to county jails, we have experienced larger numbers of long-term incarcerations. Sheriff Gore has embraced this challenge by an innovative approach to providing opportunities in career training to those men and women who are housed in our jails.

The Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility is providing inmates a second chance through the Culinary Arts Program. Inmates in the program learn to prepare food for the facility staff, which exposes them to the high-paced environment found in a restaurant setting. Our large vocational space allows training in landscape and design; our industrial sewing program employs 40 inmate workers, and the Industrial Laundry Facility teaches skills that will allow inmates to seek employment in San Diego's many hotel and medical facilities. With the industrial space, we are working closely with our community partners to establish a program that will provide additional vocational training that will allow women to earn a living wage once released. The target for this program is to consider those careers identified in the counties projected workforce gap analysis.

The East Mesa Detention and Reentry Facility for Men provides inmates health care enrollment, college courses, comprehensive vocation certification, career exploration and job readiness. The occupational opportunities include culinary arts, laundry, print shop, bakery, construction trades and landscaping.

Second Chance and the Workforce Partnership are offered at the East Mesa Detention and Reentry Facility. The goal is to disrupt the cycles of incarceration and poverty by offering the most effective solutions for reducing recidivism, unemployment, and homelessness. Some examples include a reentry mentoring program for pre- and post-release individuals, who are young fathers and emphasize the development of healthy parenting skills for them.

Second Chance also provides mentors, who are assigned to support the inmates' preparations for release and help to link them to programs and services in the community that address their identified needs, such as housing, employment, and treatment services for substance abuse and mental health. In addition, mentors will provide emotional support and encouragement to individuals from incarceration, hold them accountable throughout the treatment process, and play active roles in promoting positive behavioral changes.


The Sheriff's Department has implemented a Body Worn Camera system, to not only document activity but, also to provide more trust and accountability to the communities we serve. During the process of implementation, we conducted extensive testing to ensure the system we purchased not only met the needs of a large agency with an expansive jurisdiction, but one that was fiscally sound and would be a long-term solution. By conducting this well thought-out research, we were able to save the County of San Diego a substantial amount of money, not only in the storage of the data, but also in the price per unit cost of the cameras. Sheriff Gore has been innovative in his approach toward all video evidence in the creation of a Video Analysis Unit, that will be able to take in and analyze all video from an incident including: cell phone video, commercial surveillance systems, and other media found at incident scenes. Additionally, Sheriff Gore worked toward a regional solution for the release of video footage when the public interesting outweighs other considerations.


Deputies in San Diego County were the first in the State of California to carry and use Naloxone in response to the growing epidemic of heroin overdoses. During the course of this program, more than 60 lives have been saved in San Diego. Sheriff Gore recognizes the need to do more to combat our national spread of fentanyl and other dangerous drug abuse. He has implemented a program where every overdose death in our jurisdiction is investigated to identify the source of the drugs and those responsible for the death. This source tracking also locates drug dealers and removes potentially deadly substances from our streets before they cause more harm.


Sheriff Gore has long held a belief that our communities are safer when all members know they can come forward to report, or be a witness to crime, without fear of deportation or penalty due to their immigration status. He has policies in place that prohibit deputies in the field from contacting or investigating a person based on their country of origin.

Sheriff Gore has also worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our jails when undocumented individuals are arrested and have prior convictions for serious and violent offenses.


The Sheriff's Department has instituted programs to reduce domestic violence. We act quickly to safeguard victims and swiftly move to arrest perpetrators and where possible, we follow up with victims and families to ensure they participate in programs; raising their awareness of available resources. We have partnered with the District Attorney's Office and work to ensure prosecution when appropriate and reduce recidivism with intervention practices. We understand the importance of breaking this cycle of family violence.

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