The CHCF Is Helping California Respond to the Opioid Epidemic

Over the past few years, the United States has discovered an extreme opioid epidemic among its population. Fatalities and abuse cases have proliferated with a surge of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is significantly more potent than other abused opioids. 


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 841,000 deaths have occurred due to drug overdoses since 1999. In California, nearly 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2020, and 7,800 other patients were admitted to emergency rooms.


As the numbers began to increase, especially after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people finally started to take initiative to reduce these numbers. Now the nonprofit California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) is working to help the state of California with its response to the crisis.


Partnerships between various substance abuse recovery and rehabilitation centers in southern California have driven a substantial shift that has resulted in curbing the numbers throughout the past year or so. The CHCF had urged a push for intervention and better preventive care for several years, and the time to step up and take the initiative finally arrived.


The organization invested around $7 million over the course of the last five years to help launch several new programs as well as perform further research and studies. These programs were intended to reduce the overall supply of prescription opioids issued by medical professionals.


Programs also sought to promote substance abuse treatment based upon evidence from research. They vastly broadened access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and saved thousands of lives.


In 2015, when numbers of overdose and opioid abuse began to rise dramatically, many took the opportunity to pass blame. “People blamed the doctors,” said Kelly Pfeifer, MD with CHCF.


“The doctors blamed medical societies for urging them to treat pain as a ‘fifth vital sign’ and prescribe more and more opioids.” And despite how much censure was imposed on physicians, even more criticism was directed at the pharmaceutical companies, who were creating, selling, and distributing the drugs.


While blame may identify the parties at fault, it doesn’t fix the core problem when American citizens suffer from substance abuse and addiction. Pfeifer believes the overall issue is the stigma placed upon people when they have an issue with drugs.


It’s regarded by their neighbors as a “moral failing,” when the reality is the addiction is a brain disease with considerable complexity. In order to make a shift in attitude, the CHCF took an approach that worked with medical professionals in multiple fields to present people with addiction as individuals that have a chronic condition which requires professional care.


Just like someone would go to a doctor for an illness, an addict would no longer be an addict but a patient.


One of the best facets of the work the CHCF is doing reaches far beyond a single U.S. city. The CHCF funded sixteen opioid safety coalitions at the start of 2015, when funds were initially directed toward its initiatives.


These programs penetrated 23 counties and by 2017, that number had grown to 36, which exceeded the foundation’s initial goal. Their success was mainly due to the realization that every community is different and has a unique set of needs.


By catering their programs and research to the recipient regions’ specific necessities and character, the CHFC was able to tailor its programs and pinpoint exactly where the help was needed.


Since its founding in 1996, the CHFC has partnered with California policymakers in order not to just talk about change but to actively effect systemic changes from the inside out. Pfeifer and the CHFC fully stand behind the ideology that the opioid epidemic, as well as other behavioral health challenges, needs to be addressed throughout the entire U.S. health-care system.


To learn more about the work of the CHFC, visit