San Diego Woman Working to Get Drug Addiction, Fentanyl Overdoses Off the Streets

In University Heights, San Diego police have been investigating two overdose deaths possibly due to fentanyl. A man and woman were found dead just before 5 a.m. Thursday inside a home on Louisiana Street.

Police said they found the drug fentanyl inside the house. Neighbors were surprised to hear what happened.

There were two other men who were found unresponsive. First responders performed CPR and administered Narcan. Those two men survived.

Tara Stamos-Buesig was compelled to come to the Louisiana Street home where investigators said four people overdosed on drugs.

For several years, she has counseled those caught in the cycle of substance abuse. The names of those who died and those who were revived haven’t been released, but Tara said there is a good chance she knew them.

“That puts the number at 50 now of people I worked with that I have known or loved friends and family who lost their lives to overdose,” Stamos-Buesig said.

Tara has a lot of street credibility around here. This is her old neighborhood. She was homeless on and off for 15 to 20 years and a drug user during that same period of time. She finally got sober after her last arrest in July of 2013.

“I was a person who used substances chaotically to survive on the street and I started using because of trauma,” Stamos-Buesig said.

As CEO of the Harm Reduction Coalition of San Diego, her clients are mostly drug users. She provides to anyone who will accept it, Narcan nasal spray. It is a most effective tool and was used to revive two people that overdosed in that house Thursday morning.

“Narcan should be available to everybody. It should be in everyone’s homes, it should be in everybody’s medicine cabinets, in your car,” Stamos-Buesig said.

This is personal for Tara. She survived the life, found sobriety and now is dedicated to helping others endure.

“I am grateful two people are alive and it makes me know I have to do more because it could have been four people that were still alive and it’s a heavy weight to carry,” Stamos-Buesig said.

The Harm Reduction Coalition is consulting San Diego County on its Narcan program, advising where to best place Narcan stations for emergency use.

Those two fatal overdoses in University Heights, apparently caused by fentanyl, would be among more than 800 such deaths just this year.

In fact, fentanyl deaths in San Diego in just the first half of this year had already surpassed last year’s total.

In 2021, 812 people died from fentanyl overdoses in San Diego County. From January to June of 2022, there have already been 825 deaths.

For perspective on just how quickly this problem is getting worse: only 5 years ago, the number of deadly fentanyl overdoses in the county was 84.

Now, Mayor Todd Gloria said he will issue an executive order directing the city’s government affairs department to pursue state legislation to enhance sentences for drug dealers when sales of fentanyl result in injuries and death.

He’s also calling on staff to develop new policies to further enhance the city’s response to the fentanyl crisis.

“I’m pledging every bit of support that San Diego can offer as California’s second largest city and the eighth largest city in this country. Cities are on the front lines of the impacts of this crisis and I’m determined that we be at the forefront of addressing it,” Mayor Gloria said.

“We will not make or accept excuses for letting this crisis continue to grow out of control. We’re going to own this and we’re gonna make sure that we’re tackling it at every level local state and federal,” Mayor Gloria added.

Just last month, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to require fentanyl awareness education in county classrooms. The proposal also calls for the distribution of naloxone to parents and students and training them on how to use it.

The message of protecting children was echoed at Thursday’s news conference.

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