Spiraling Unnatural Death Crisis in Orange County

It is now fall and it looks like a cold and cruel winter for the most vulnerable in Orange County. The Sheriff’s Department recently released their 2021 Coroner’s Report and the numbers are terrifying.

Overdose deaths have increased from 487 in 2020 to 937 in 2021, an increase of almost 100%. Almost everything is related to fentanyl. Methamphetamine-related deaths have also jumped. Meth takes you. Fentanyl gets you down. It’s a vicious cycle of addiction.

Deaths of people living on the streets rose from 197 in 2017 to 395 last year. The crisis is spiraling out of control.

It’s not Los Angeles or San Francisco or Portland. It’s here in the heart of the Californian dream. I see it from my front door every day and won’t look away.

I spoke with someone the other day who lived in the bubble. Their lives do not include these harsh realities. None of us want to face a cultural failure of which we are all a part.

It’s easier to spend billions on programs and housing that never seem to address the root causes of these scourges and then pretend we’ve done enough. It’s easier to live inside the bubble.

Looking at the data, we find that despite our best efforts and good intentions, we are wrong. Our sheriff’s department and local police departments are in a rush to be social workers and yet too often they are, along with our EMS services, called into a crisis that too often means picking up the deceased and putting them in a body bag .

This must stop.

One of the definitions of mental illness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. This defines our risk aversion system. We have to do better and we have to do it now.

It starts with compassion and connection. It starts at an early age. It starts with education and commitment. We are losing too many children to suicide and overdoses in a system that preaches compassion and tolerance, but often leaves those most at risk desperate.

It starts with a personal commitment to change. It starts with a leap of faith.

It starts with facing the harsh realities.

It starts with families. Sometimes they can be part of the problem, and they are definitely part of the solution. Sometimes we do the worst damage to our loved ones. Too often we look the other way when a family member makes bad choices. Almost everyone on the street has family somewhere. Almost everyone at risk of taking that fatal step with narcotics, alcohol, or suicide has someone who could turn them back.

Connection is essential. Too many of us are isolated in our self-made bubbles or by our circumstances. Loneliness leads to despair. Hope keeps us going. His absence kills us.

It starts with people power. We need to reach out to others, especially those who are isolated. A few words of kindness can change a life. A few harsh words can trigger the spiral. Words matter.

There is a care crisis. There are far too few clinicians for far too many people in need. We are facing an existential crisis and yet when the alarm bells ring there is often no one to answer the call. We need more trained people at all levels.

There is a treatment crisis. We need more mental health beds at all levels; in acute care facilities, transitional care facilities and residential care facilities.

We need to meet people where they are and how they are. If someone is in a mental health crisis and is ready to take medication, they must be available on site. If a drug addict decides they are ready to enter drug treatment, there must be a bed available immediately. It may be the best chance they get to recover.

Family education is a great reward. Data shows that empowering families to care for their loved one with mental illness reduces rehospitalizations by 85%. Let’s stop the cycle before it starts. Warm transfers from each level of care to the next are essential.

But with all this, there must be accountability and transparency. At all levels. By our elected officials. Through our social services and our health system. By families. And by each of us.

Each of these opportunities addresses a small part of an extremely complex puzzle. But failure is not an option. Every life has a value. Each person has their place. Many of us don’t want to look in dark corners. But if we want to improve our community and reduce deaths from homelessness and addiction, we have to be brutally honest.

Matt Holzmann is an executive in the semiconductor and high-tech industries with over 30 years of experience as an innovator and entrepreneur. He is also an advocate for systemic change in behavioral health for the benefit of all members of our community.

Opinions expressed in community opinion articles belong to the authors and not to Voice of OC.

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