Spitzer Says Heroin Addicts Should Get Help, Not Life-Saving Antidote Kits

Supervisor Todd Spitzer at an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. (Photo by: Nick Gerda)

As a growing opioid epidemic claims hundreds of lives across Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer says people who are addicted to heroin should get help to stop their addiction, not antidote kits that prevent them from dying during an overdose.

“They need to get help, and they shouldn’t rely on this reversal of an opioid to save their lives. They should be figuring out how not to use heroin. Not…how to use heroin, and then have somebody come rescue them,” Spitzer said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

His comments came as supervisors considered whether to allow the distribution of more than 6,000 naloxone kits to drug treatment centers and people at high risk of overdosing from opioids.

Accidental drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in Orange County among people under the age of 35, according to data from the county and the CDC.

Most drug overdoses in Orange County involve opioids, with 228 people dying in 2015 across all ages. Such deaths have continued to escalate since then, according to the OC Register.

About 80 percent of overdose deaths are accidental, according to the county coroner’s office. And over half of opioid overdose deaths in the county are from prescription drugs.

Spitzer suggested instead of receiving the kits, which are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin addicts should be told: “You need to get into drug treatment. You need to change your life. You need to get off the [Santa Ana] riverbed. You need to get a job. You need to get housing.”

Providing the antidote kits, he suggested, would create “an environment where, you know, you can continue to use heroin, you don’t need to change your behavior,” because if an addict overdoses, a friend can administer naloxone and save the addict’s life.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson strongly disagreed with Spitzer, saying he’s wrong to think it’s easy to stop using heroin.

“I just want to suggest to you that, when you get to opiate addiction…they’re addicted,” said Nelson, who said his uncle Mike was a heroin addict and died at a young age.

“They take the heroin because they get physically ill if they don’t take it, and that’s the same with all these other opioids – oxycodone…down to Vicodin,” he added.

“It’s a ridiculous choice to get started – dangerous, life threatening. But once you’re on it, the reason they keep going back, is physical dependency. It has nothing to do with the fact that naloxone is available. There is no addict that goes and takes heroin because naloxone happens to be in the room.”

“My understanding is,” Nelson added, “most of these young people that are addicted to heroin right now are addicted because they started on legal prescription meds – which are out of control – took them, ended up…getting hooked, you can’t get prescriptions – the street value of Oxycodone’s like $40 a pill – and you can get black tar heroin for $10 or $15 a dose. And it becomes an addiction matched with a financial incentive.”

“It happens probably thousands, if not tens of thousands of times every day right here in Orange County.”

“[Naloxone] is not a drug antidote that convinces people to start taking heroin. I mean that just – that doesn’t happen,” he added. “We’ve got to provide parents that feel helpless, with a remedy. And that is what this is all about.”

Federal health officials recommend expanding access to naloxone in order to reduce opioid overdoses and save lives.

The antidote, which is also known by its brand name Narcan, essentially blocks the effects of overdoses and is not addictive, according to the CDC.

The county Health Care Agency recently received a state grant that would provide 6,218 doses of naloxone for the county to distribute.

Spitzer, who is running for county District Attorney, voted against accepting the grant. It needed three supervisors to be approved, and passed 3-1. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett was absent.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Clearly, what Todd Spitzer actually knows about addiction, like what he knows about leadership, can be etched on the head of a pin, with room left over for The Lord’s Prayer and lyrics to Stairway to Heaven. Did this clown actually stay awake in any college classes? How can a man with a law degree be this ignorant?

  • Waismann Method

    This is not an opioid crisis; this is a pain crisis. People are hurting, they are in constant pain ( emotional and physical), and they don’t have resources to cope, so they self-medicate. We keep focusing on addiction, what makes us lose sight of the person in from of us.
    We need to stop doing the same things and expect different results. We need to invest in science, education and mental health. Provide people with the individualized care they need, and maybe we will start seeing some improvement.

  • How did the topic move from prescribing Narcan for Opiates such as Oxy & Vicodin get to heroin addiction?

    • David Zenger

      Why were politicians so gosh darn afraid of industrial hemp? Take some cowardice, mix in a little hysteria and ignorance, shake, and you have your garden variety politician.

      • Agreed, but Garden variety conservative or moderate politician.

    • kealoha53

      Are you not paying attention ?

  • LFOldTimer

    Seems that if we had a real war on drugs that our occupying forces in Afghanistan (the Golden Triangle) would destroy the poppy fields to halt the production and distribution of heroin. They could call it Operation Poppy Pooper. Within 2 weeks they could wipe out 90% of the Afghan poppy fields without even breaking a sweat. Yet under the Obama administration the exact opposite happened. Poppy production surged and production hit record levels. lol. The poppy farmers were rolling in cash. Why do you think the junkies are only paying $10 in OC for a hit?

    Funny how that works. 😉

  • Paul Lucas

    This won’t sit well with the south county folks whose kids make up a huge portion of heroine addicts in oc

    • David Zenger

      Makes you wonder when the “get tough on drugs” attitude is finally going to stop selling on the political market.

      I can just see Spitzer standing next to a voting booth. “Psst. Hey voter, want to try some really good stuff? 1980s Nancy Regan Just Say No!”

      • Paul Lucas

        its a real head scratcher for sure.

    • kealoha53

      You think this is only a south county drug problem ?

      • LFOldTimer

        We humans love to join teams. My team can do no wrong. His team is the cause of all our problems. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we stopped dragging our knuckles and learned to walk upright. And it will remain so until the end of time. Everybody loves a team player. Now go out there and win one for the gipper.

      • Paul Lucas

        No obviously not. But in the OC the problem is especially acute in south oc. and Todd is running for DA countywide. His base is south oc.

  • Daniel Lamb

    Let’s talk about the Drug War…. My biological farther was accused many years ago of being a petty drug dealer. After a sting operation that involved my sister (12 at the time) and me (15) forced to our knees with rifles pointed to our respective heads, my father himself was forced (extorted) into doing another dangerous sting operation that ultimately put my entire family in grave danger.

    Now, putting aside the fact that the police have obviously failed to achieve any significant success in the Drug War, do the American people think this is the right approach? Has this practice (of essentially taking slaves and forcing them to put themselves and their families in terrible danger) expanded outside drug investigations? How do the courts hold police accountable for these actions when they are done totally in the dark? To what extent is the Supervisor aware of the situation?

    Sorry if this is a tad off topic, but the Supervisor did bring up drug policy. If you could ask him some of these questions that would be great. Thanks.

  • David Zenger

    One of these days Spitzer may actually perform a self-cranial rectal extraction.

    But it won’t be today. Or tomorrow, either.