Our View | Fentanyl Town Hall: Our Thanks

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This was not the end of the conversation. But we are hopeful, and grateful for the information and dialogue that was shared Thursday night in the Fentanyl Town Hall we hosted at the Canyon Country Community Center.

About 150 community members turned out in person, and more than 5,000 more watched via live video, to hear and learn about the fentanyl crisis, how it is affecting the Santa Clarita Valley, and what can be done about it.

The takeaways?

There were many. Among the ones that stood out to us: 

• In 2022, it’s estimated fentanyl took the lives of at least 30 young SCV residents. These deaths are commonly referred to as overdoses — but as the panel discussion participants pointed out, most of them could more aptly be described as fentanyl poisonings, because the vast majority of people who die from fentanyl aren’t even aware that they are taking fentanyl, as they are consuming some other drug — be it Percocet, Oxycontin, Ecstasy, even marijuana — that, unbeknownst to them, is laced with fentanyl.

• Drugs are dangerous. We all know that. But this is a different kind of dangerous: A dose as small as a grain of salt can be fatal.

• As parents, most of us are familiar with the notion that we need to talk to our kids about drugs. But we need to do it much earlier than you might think. From a young age, we should lead our kids to be “hard-wired” against taking drugs from any source other than a doctor’s prescription or an over-the-counter medicine under parental supervision. Any drug distributed “on the street” can be laced with fentanyl. And it can kill you.

• Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, is an effective tool to reverse a fentanyl overdose when administered properly and immediately. But it is NOT a preventive medicine; taking it in advance of consuming something laced with fentanyl will not work.

• Administering naloxone to someone you suspect has been poisoned by fentanyl can only help, not hurt. If something else has caused their medical trauma, naloxone will do them no harm.

• If you think your kids won’t fall victim to fentanyl poisoning, remember the harsh reality that the vast majority of parents who have lost children to fentanyl had thought the very same thing.

We thank all who attended — any one of them could lose a loved one to fentanyl, and any one of them might be able to prevent such a loss with the information and tools that were shared.

We also owe a special debt of gratitude to all of the agencies and individuals who participated, providing a wealth of information and advice for parents, including:

• L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who discussed the county’s commitments to fighting against the fentanyl crisis.

• Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs, who brought his perspective not only as a local government leader, but also as a dad.

• Capt. Brandon Dean, of the Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Bureau and Overdose Response Task Force, who described law enforcement’s approach to the fentanyl crisis — emphasizing that the approach starts with prevention.

• Capt. Justin Diez of the SCV Sheriff’s Station, who emphasized that using Narcan to save a life is something that has to be done quickly — as in, within minutes of an overdose.

• Superintendent Mike Kuhlman of the William S. Hart Union High School District, who provided us all a window into the highs and lows of his job: He gets to rejoice and celebrate student successes in the classroom, on the stage, on the athletic field — but he also has to confront crises like this one. It can be heartbreaking.

• Pat Sprengel, L.A. County Fire Department battalion chief, who shared his experiences from the field in responding to fentanyl overdoses.

• Drs. Eric El-Tobgy and Siddarth Puri from L.A. County Public Health, who shared information on the steps Public Health is taking to combat the crisis. Puri led the Narcan demonstration, showing attendees how to properly administer the nasal spray.

• Dr. Darrin Privett, emergency room director at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, who described for the audience just how prevalent and frequently fentanyl cases present themselves in the local ER.

• Jonathan Hatami, a deputy district attorney and SCV resident, who advocated for more aggressive prosecution of those who knowingly distribute the deadly fentanyl.

• Cary Quashen, the founder of Action Drug Rehab, who’s well-known in the SCV as a voice of expertise on issues relating to drug addiction. He emphasized that, in his decades of experience dealing with one drug crisis after another, the fentanyl crisis is uniquely terrifying and deadly because of the drug’s surreptitious presence in just about anything on the streets.

• Olivia Flores, who accompanied Quashen and told her personal story of her younger brother, who died from fentanyl. He was only 18.

We thank all of them, for their participation, their perspectives, their advice and, most of all, for caring. 

This wasn’t the end of the conversation — it will take much more dialogue, and action to go with it, to defend our community against the fentanyl scourge. 

We remain committed to that.

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