The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health came together with county officials, educators and community partners on Thursday, National Opioid Awareness Day, to address the crisis that is “breaking mothers’ hearts” — fentanyl.
Recognizing the unprecedented scale of the overdose epidemic, the event underscored the urgent need for intervention and prevention measures in the face of the fentanyl overdose crisis plaguing Los Angeles County.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has emerged as the primary culprit behind this surge in overdose deaths. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, emphasized its deadly impact, stating, “This tragedy has called attention to what has unfortunately become the worst overdose crisis in the history of L.A. County, as well as the nation, with seven to eight people dying every single day in L.A. County of an overdose, and approximately half of these overdoses are caused by fentanyl.”
Ferrer added that fentanyl has taken the top spot as the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths for 18- to 45-year-olds and the primary cause of 92% of teen overdose deaths in L.A. County.
“The risk of overdose due to fentanyl, or fentanyl-laced drugs, can be, as we all know, deadly, and because so many are unaware that the drugs they’re ingesting are laced with fentanyl, many overdoses should actually be considered poisonings,” said Ferrer.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said that, as of Thursday, 2.4 million pills with traces of fentanyl have been recovered in 2023. The countywide number for drug-caused deaths in 2023 is at 205, only 31 less than in 2022 and the year is not over yet.
William D. Bodner, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division, outlined the agency’s approach to ensuring the right justice and charges are served for these deaths: “Whenever there is a drug-caused death, our goal is to trace the drugs back to the dealer and charge that person with a significant federal drug distribution resulting in death charge.”
L.A County is combining all efforts it can to work together toward bringing these numbers down through raising awareness, engaging communities, education and providing naloxone, or Narcan, to agencies that need it.
“The unwavering commitment and contributions that you see presented here today have strengthened our collective efforts to combat the overdose crisis throughout L.A. County, with a focus on reducing demand and supply through prevention and engagement activities,” said Ferrer.
Yolanda Vera, 2nd District senior deputy for health and wellness, spoke on behalf of L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. She detailed the supervisor’s plan in tackling the crisis: Prevent deaths by making naloxone readily available, provide more culturally appropriate options for treatment and work toward preventative measures in the youth community.
The one commonality that all of the speakers cited was the importance of education.
“What we’re focusing on in education, where students spend so much of their time, is really making sure that our students have the resources and access to the support that they need to be safe, to thrive, to get an education and to do well,” said Debra Duardo, superintendent of schools for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Alma Sanchez, a mother who lost her son to fentanyl, took to the podium supporting what the other speakers said – education and resources are vital for prevention.
Sanchez now works alongside VOID, an organization formed to bring the public’s attention to the crisis, through education, awareness and legislative advocacy.
She detailed her son’s drug use experience and how, with modern technology, the drugs can just arrive to the front door.
“It was as easy as ordering a pizza,” said Sanchez.
On Dec. 9, 2021, Sanchez received the call.
“I got the call that no mother ever wants to get. It was a call from the coroner’s office,” said Sanchez. “I can still see or hear the voice of the other person who told me this tragic news, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, we have your child here.’”
Her story serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences the crisis has had on countless families.
Gary Tsai, bureau director of the Department of Public Health Substance Abuse Prevention & Control, announced the establishment of a new effort – The Fentanyl Frontline.
The Fentanyl Frontline is a new source to combat the epidemic by raising awareness through multiple forms of media (billboards, social media videos, television, etc.), educate the public about the risks of overdose from fentanyl and counterfeit pills, offer guidance on how to save lives with naloxone and highlight accessible resources for those in need of substance abuse services.
The event concluded with a live demonstration of how to administer naloxone to a person experiencing an overdose.
To spread awareness of the local impacts of the fentanyl crisis, The Signal hosted a town hall meeting in January. The news story on the town hall can be found at signalscv.com/2023/01/santa-claritas-front-line-against-fentanyl. The town hall also featured a demonstration of how to administer naloxone. The demonstration can be seen at the 1-hour, 16-minute mark of the video of the event, which can be found at youtu.be/kk92NKReIO8.