Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 8:19 am | A Few Clouds 54º


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3 Overdose Deaths Reported In Santa Barbara County; Authorities Link 2, Ponder Possible Heroin Use

Three people have died of apparent drug overdoses in the past four days in northern Santa Barbara County, the Sheriff’s Department reported Sunday.

Two of the deaths were in the Santa Ynez Valley and may be linked.

The latest victim, a 31-year-old Santa Ynez woman, was found dead Sunday morning not far from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

She said the woman was discovered unresponsive in a field near a residence in the 3100 block of Highway 246. A witness told deputies the woman had been observed in distress and running around the property before falling to the ground.

Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene.

Hoover said investigators believe there is a connection between the woman’s death and that of a 32-year-old Solvang man who was found dead in a local hotel room Thursday.

“Although investigators were not able to conclusively establish that heroin was involved in her death, she was believed to be present ... when the 32-year-old man passed away in the Solvang hotel room four days earlier,” Hoover said.

Also Thursday, a 27-year-old Lompoc man was found dead in his residence. Authorities suspect he died of a heroin overdose.

“Out of respect for the families of the deceased, and because these are ongoing investigations, we are not releasing the names of the individuals at this time,” Hoover said.

She said the dead woman’s 46-year-old husband, whose name also was withheld, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of child endangerment and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Two boys, ages 5 and 4, were taken into the care of county Child Welfare Services after narcotics and drug paraphernalia were found where the children had access, Hoover said.

The sheriff’s Coroner’s Office is currently investigating the three deaths, and is also coordinating with the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services “to ensure that we are engaging our communities with information that will assist in preventing additional heroin overdoses and deaths,” Hoover added.

“The Coroner’s Unit is also communicating with countywide narcotics investigation units in an effort to address individuals and criminal organizations responsible for distributing heroin in our communities,” she said.

“Because these are open investigations, we are not releasing additional specific information.”

County officials note that heroin is a powerful illegal narcotic that is distributed in a number of different forms, including a dark-colored tar-like substance, a brown powder and a near-white powder.

Although heroin is typically injected or smoked, it can be ingested through a number of methods.

“On occasion, high-purity heroin is distributed within our communities and can lead to increases in overdose injuries and deaths,” said Hoover, who added that it had not yet been determined whether high-purity heroin was the cause of the three deaths.

“Given the close time proximity of these deaths and the potential for continued harm to our community members, we would like to bring this concern to the attention of our Santa Barbara County communities,” she said.

The Sheriff’s Department is asking the community to call the Narcotics Investigations Unit at 805.681.4175 to report information about the sale and distribution of heroin and other illegal drugs.

Officials say Santa Barbara County is part of a national trend on opioid addiction and accidental overdose deaths.

“Accidental overdose deaths now exceed automobile accident deaths across the country, and in our county,” according to ADMHS Alcohol and Drug Prevention Division data.

Officials say the abuse of prescription painkillers — Vicodin, Percodan/set, Oxycontin, Opana — and heroin have increased by 30 percent over the past five years in Santa Barbara. 

Heroin and prescription painkillers are considered the “drugs of choice” for more than 25 percent of new admissions into county drug treatment programs, officials say.

“We are deeply saddened by every overdose — death or not — and every case of opioid addiction,” an official county statement said. “The public needs to know that medications as common as Vicodin have serious addictive potential, that heroin abuse is now a middle-class phenomenon, and that accidental overdose is a very real possibility for anyone abusing these narcotics.

“Finally, people need to understand that most accidental overdose deaths do not occur with an opioid alone, but opioids in combination with other drugs such as alcohol, or sedatives such as Xanax or Klonipin.”

The county ADMHS contracts with a variety of community-based providers for alcohol and drug treatment. For help with addiction and mental health services, community members can call the 24/7 ADMHS access line at 1.888.868.1649.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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