candace winstead

The SLO Bangers Syringe Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program, a countywide harm reduction volunteer group, released a quarterly report showing that the organization distributed hundreds of overdose prevention kits while helping to reverse 79 overdoses in the past three months.

SLO Bangers aims to prevent or reduce the spread of infections that are commonly associated with injection equipment.

“Our mission is rooted in harm reduction,” biological sciences professor and SLO Bangers member Candace Winstead said. “By which we mean meeting people where they are at with their drug use and offering them tools that can prevent infectious disease, overdose and reduce other harms associated with injecting drugs.”

SLO Bangers reported that there were five fatal overdoses in San Luis Obispo County from July to September. During the same three-month period, SLO Bangers distributed 550 Narcan kits, each kit with two doses of nasal Narcan, and helped reverse 79 overdoses. The group also conducted 210 Narcan training sessions which showed people how to prevent, recognize and respond to an opioid overdose.

Narcan is a brand of the drug Naloxone, which is used to treat narcotic overdoses in possible emergency situations.

“​The post was intended to highlight the work done by the team and to offer gratitude to our participants for the number of lives they saved using the Naloxone we distribute,” Winstead said. “It was also to honor those that we lost to overdose, despite our efforts. Responding to overdoses is hard and traumatic work, and the participants of our program deserve so much respect and gratitude for their willingness to continue with this even in the face of escalating overdoses.”

Some program volunteers are Cal Poly students, including cellular and molecular biology senior Maya Lavorando. She currently works as the Communicable Disease Investigator at SLO Bangers.

Lavorando said she has learned a lot during her time with the organization, especially when it comes to “harm reduction and trauma-informed care.”

“It is so important to see a person as more than their drug use and instead as an entire, complex individual,” Lavorando said. “Instead of doing this, however, our society has managed to stigmatize and stereotype this entire population of people, so my goal is to help other harm reductionists eliminate the factors feeding into this stigma.”

Despite the fact that both Winstead and Lavorando said they see this quarterly report as a great sign for the San Luis Obispo community, they believe that there is still work to be done.

“The overdose crisis is complicated and there are many things that would be helpful to prevent these needless deaths,” Winstead said. “This includes better access to and less stigmatized healthcare, affordable housing, lower barriers to recovery programs, decriminalization of all drugs and a safe and regulated supply that is not contaminated with unknown quantities of strong opioids like Fentanyl.”

SLO Bangers will continue their work in preventing overdoses in San Luis Obispo with two new projects.

Winstead said one project is to expand “testing and linkage to care for Hepatitis C virus (HCV) — a blood-borne infection that can be transmitted through sharing syringes and supplies.” The other involves collecting more qualitative data through interviews, which Winstead says can help amplify the voices of their participants.

“There are still many people dying preventable deaths from overdose, so our work is never over,” Winstead said.

Narcan is available at the Cal Poly Health Center. To complete a Narcan training session, email Candace Winstead at 

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