The Opioid Epidemic

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.

In 2019 there were an estimated 10.1 million people in the United States living with opioid use disorder.1 A significant increase in fentanyl use as well as counterfeit pills have greatly increased the risk for opioid overdose and overdose deaths. From July 2019 to June 200 there were over 62,000 opioid overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids and heroin. 2

Over the last three years, Kern County has seen a steady increase in opioid overdose deaths and emergency room visits for opioid overdoses.

In Kern County in 2019 there were:

  • 117 opioid overdose deaths
  • 54 Fentanyl overdose deaths (increase 93%)
  • 36 Heroin overdose deaths (increase 80%)
  • Death rate is 12.89 per 100K (increase 25%)
  • Death rate is 8.21 per 100k (increase of 48% over 2017)
  • 376 Emergency Department visits related to any opioid overdose 3
  • In August 2019, treatment admissions for Opioids surpassed Methamphetamine 4

Drug Free Kern works on initiatives that include educating prescribers on best prescribing practices, proper disposal of unused and expired medication, education, and prevention to reduce opioid misuse and abuse.

For substance use treatment and services:

  • Call Gateway Services, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-866-266-4898
  • In Person:
    • Mary K. Shell: 2151 College Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93305
    • Department of Human Services – Room L90: 100 East California Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93307
    • Juvenile Justice Center: 2100 College Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93305
    • Kern County Superior Court – 4th Floor: 1415 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93301


In 2019 out of 9.7 million people aged 12 or older who misused prescription pain relievers in last year:

  • 37.5 % received them through a prescription(s) or stole from a Health Care Provider,
  • 50.8% were given, bought, or took from a friend or relative and 37% of these individuals got prescription drugs from a friend or relative for free.5

Because 37% of individuals that misuse or abuse a prescription drug receive it from a friend or family member for free, decreasing access to prescription drugs is crucial. By reducing the availability of easy-to-access medication at home we can reduce prescription drug misuse and abuse. Additionally, improper disposal of medication by throwing it out in the trash or flushing it down the toilet can lead to theft of the medication and groundwater contamination.

Ways to prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse include:

Safely storing medications:

  • Obtain a Safer Lock prescription locking bottle or box.
  • Utilize a locked cabinet in your home
  • Do not share the code or key

Monitoring Medications:

Safe Disposal

  • Dispose of unwanted or expired medication at a Kern Rx Return location
  • Routinely check for left over or expired medication to dispose of as medications can often change before a prescription runs out.
  • Share safe disposal information with family members or friends

If you have home generated sharps (syringes) to dispose of, please visit the Kern County Public Works Special Waste Facility website to find a waste facility site near you. Public Works also provides free home generated sharps receptacles to residents. 

Naloxone Distribution

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer issued a Standing Order for Naloxone to allow entities to distribute and administer naloxone to reduce deaths associated with opioid overdose.6 Through this standing order, California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) created the Naloxone Distribution Project to provide organizations access to Naloxone at no cost.7

Drug Free Kern is a recipient of DHCS’s Naloxone Distribution Project grant and provides Naloxone through the Naloxone Distribution Program.

The Naloxone Distribution Program is based on the train the trainer model. The program trains organizations that conduct outreach to high risk populations throughout the county. Participants learn the warning signs of an opioid overdose, how to administer Naloxone, and best practices in relation to engaging active substance users. Program participants are provided Naloxone kits to distribute at no cost.

For individuals and family members naloxone is available from their doctor to have it filled at a pharmacy.  It is also possible to purchase naloxone directly from a pharmacist without a prescription.  If you have health care insurance, naloxone prescriptions may be covered.8

To learn more about this program please email


Education on drug and alcohol misuse and abuse as well as prevention is crucial. By providing youth, parents and professionals knowledge and tools, they are empowered to say no to drugs or alcohol and/or help their friends, family, students or coworkers.

The Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Substance Use Disorder Prevention Team provides education on substance misuse and abuse as well as prevention techniques. To learn more about the various presentations offered or to request a presentation click here or email

Presentation Descriptions And Request Form