County of Marin - News Releases - RxSafe Marin Conference

For Immediate Release
November 28, 2016

New Goals Set to Cut Prescription Drug Overdoses

Community mobilizes to save more lives at December 9 meeting

San Rafael, CA – Marin County has been deeply affected by the epidemic of prescription drug abuse that is sweeping the nation. The leading cause of accidental death in the county is drug overdose, accounting for more deaths annually than in motor vehicle accidents.

A crowd of people listen to a guest speaker at last year's RxSafe Marin conferenceMill Valley Police Chief Angel Bernal (right) joined dozens of community stakeholders at the 2015 RxSafe Marin annual conference.

“We are committing ourselves to zero overdose deaths,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s Public Health Officer. “We see every overdose death as preventable. Too many lives are being cut short in Marin. The good news is that there are proven strategies to save lives, and we’re taking action.”

If Marin is home to high rates of drug overdoses, it’s also home to a robust grassroots movement to solve the problem. Willis will be among the featured speakers December 9 at the third annual meeting of RxSafe Marin, a community-based initiative dedicated to saving lives and reducing harm from prescription drug abuse. The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of many coalition partners who will make this year’s conference more accessible to young people by hosting it during afternoon hours at the Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael.

“This is our third year of working on this together,” said Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools. “We’re seeing strong signs that our efforts are paying off.”

A new statewide report shows a significant reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions written by Marin medical professionals. While the number of opioids prescribed statewide has not changed, the total number of Marin opioid prescriptions is down 12 percent from a year ago.

Drug overdose deaths have also decreased over this interval, but is it too early to celebrate, Willis said.

Dr. Babak Ettekal, a physician member of RxSafe Marin, described the decrease in prescriptions written as “real progress.”

“We’re getting a lot better about knowing when and how to prescribe these powerful and potentially deadly medicines,” he said.

In 2015, Marin doctors committed to adhere to new set of common standards for prescribing painkillers. Developed in collaboration with Marin HHS, RxSafe Marin, and the Marin Medical Society, the guidelines aim to improve patient outcomes and limit the risk of harm when using opioids for pain.

Another key strategy being advanced by the group this year will be making naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose, more available countywide.  Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids during an overdose, and restores breathing. Friends and family members of those at risk for overdose, along with police officers are being encouraged to carry naloxone. 

“We want to get this life-saving antidote into the right hands so it’s on-hand in those minutes when it may save a life,” Ettekal said.

This year’s RxSafe Marin annual meeting will include speakers who will present RxSafe Marin initiative successes, and design plans for future work. Willis said he’s glad young people are being encouraged to attend.

“Some of our most tragic cases have been young people who didn’t know one pill can kill,” he said. “We want to engage them, so our approaches resonate with young people too.”

RxSafe Marin has been building on the work of community activists, Marin HHS, the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, the Marin County Public Defender’s Office, Marin County Office of Education and many other stakeholders. One of the first such coalitions in the state, the effort recently received an innovation award from the California Department of Health and Human Services.

The December 9 free event takes place from 1-5 p.m. at the Marin County Office of Education, 1111 Las Gallinas Avenue, San Rafael. The public is welcome to attend. Please visit to register.

Community feedback on the issue is welcomed. Email


Dr. Matthew Willis
Public Health Officer
Health and Human Services

3240 Kerner Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 473-4163
Email: Dr. Matthew Willis
Marin HHS website