The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a health alert after four teenagers overdosed Tuesday following their purchase of counterfeit narcotic pills, and causing the death of one student on campus at Bernstein High School in Hollywood.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, local leaders continue to sound the alarm on what they say is a health crisis, as fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths rise in the valley, and across the nation.
“Nationwide, there has been a growing trend of illicit drugs (particularly methamphetamine and cocaine) and counterfeit pills contaminated with fentanyl and other life-threatening substances,” Public Health wrote in a released statement.
In 2021, fentanyl was identified in about 77% of adolescent overdose deaths nationally, and more than 80% of drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15 to 19 in 2015 were unintentional, according to Public Health.
“Fentanyl and methamphetamine-related overdose deaths have increased in Los Angeles County even prior to the pandemic and continue to rise at an alarming rate,” Public Health wrote in the statement.
Public Health recommended actions for the public to prevent fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths:
Avoid the use of substances from uncertain sources; test substances for the presence of fentanyl using fentanyl test strips, which can be purchased online; obtain Naloxone or a Naloxone prescription for overdose rescue; or obtain substance use disorder treatment.
Fentanyl test strips identify drugs contaminated with fentanyl and can help individuals make informed decisions about the drugs they use, according to Public Health. Fentanyl test strips require dissolving a small amount of the drug supply in water, dipping the test strip into the liquid and waiting 15 seconds for a result.
Public Health and local leaders both agree that communication between parents or guardians with their children can also play a vital role in preventing fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.
During a press conference in late August, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said local deputies reported 21 fentanyl-related deaths this year in the SCV.
According to Villanueva, there were 1,204 fentanyl-related deaths in the county in 2018, 1,650 deaths in 2019, and 2,425 deaths in 2020. The number of fentanyl-related deaths in 2021 is not complete data, but the county has already reached the same amount as in 2020 by the third quarter last year, Villanueva added.
Fentanyl is a “high potency” synthetic opioid that is colorless and odorless and can cause rapid respiratory depression resulting in accidental death, according to Public Health.
“Awareness of the risk of fentanyl in counterfeit pills, stimulants, and other substances sold outside of pharmacies is necessary for both the general public, including youth and adults, as well as health care providers,” Public Health wrote in the statement.
Public Health recommends parents and guardians talk about drug abuse with their adolescents. In the SCV, Cary Quashen, CEO of Action Drug Rehabs, hosted a press conference with federal, local and LASD leaders, the same one Villanueva attended, to raise awareness about fentanyl.
And most recently, during the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board meeting on Wednesday, board President Joe Messina presented Quashen with the One Hart Award for his work in drug rehabilitation.
“He’s been a great voice for letting the district and parents know about the dangers of today’s drugs,” Messina said. “Fentanyl is a killer, period.”
Quashen said in his 40 years of working with children and adults, he’s “never seen anything even close to [what is] happening now.”
“If we’re not on top of this, if we’re not ready for this, we’re going to lose more [kids],” Quashen said.
According to Messina, the Hart district will be sharing a video in the spring with all staff and students to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl.
“When we talked about school safety, this isn’t just about anti-bullying and keeping weapons off campus, and just having wellness centers, it’s about making sure that kids are safe from all of that, and from deadly drugs being passed around,” Messina said.
“It’s making sure that all students from all walks of life get the information they need,” he added.
For more information visit Public Health’s website, at bit.ly/3Bfxzpu, for additional information on its recommended actions.