How Will California handle the Youth Fentanyl Overdose Crisis?

Expect a lot of debate over how California should respond to the state’s mounting fentanyl epidemic when state lawmakers return to Sacramento early next year.

Bills dealing with the super-powerful synthetic opioid are already piling up, many of them focused on youth in the wake of a stunning analysis that found fentanyl was responsible for 1 in 5 deaths among 15- to 24-year-old Californians in 2021.

Amid a surge of fentanyl overdoses on school campuses, new Republican Assemblymember Joe Patterson of Rocklin unveiled a proposal to require public K-12 schools to keep on campus Narcan, medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, the Los Angeles Times reports. Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese of San Jose introduced a bill to create a state framework to prevent youth fentanyl overdoses, including by training school staff to administer Narcan and by asking schools to share overdose prevention information with students and parents.

  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond wrote in an October letter to school officials“I encourage all local educational agencies to take immediate steps to educate students, staff, and families so that we can prevent unintended use of this deadly drug. This is also a critical moment to intervene and help youth and families who are struggling with substance abuse disorders and those who are using drugs to cope with trauma, loss, or mental illness.”

Fentanyl isn’t the only concern. Four Southern California middle school students apparently overdosed after eating marijuana-laced products Wednesday, a week after 10 Los Angeles middle schoolers evidently overdosed on cannabis edibles, according to the Associated Press. Before Halloween, state health officials warned parents to be on the lookout for possibly dangerous hemp-derived candies, noting “the number of children who are eating these products is increasing.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced nearly $481 million in grants to help overhaul California’s youth mental health system, noting that in the Golden State, “the rates of serious mental illness and substance use disorders are highest for individuals ages 18 to 25, and rates of children and youth experiencing behavioral health conditions, youth emergency department visits for mental health concerns, and youth suicides continue to rise.”

Other approaches to dealing with the fentanyl crisis — such as cracking down on dealers — could prove more difficult in the supermajority-Democratic Legislature, which tends to be hesitant about increasing criminal penalties as it eyes shuttering more state prisons.

  • Last year, for example, lawmakers rejected a proposal to permit convicted drug dealers to be charged with manslaughter or murder for selling fatal doses of fentanyl or other opiates or narcotics. They also killed a bill to increase jail time for people selling 2 grams or more of fentanyl, including those hawking it on social media.
  • Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson of Fresno, a member of the newly created Assembly Select Committee on Fentanyl, Opioid Addiction, and Overdose Prevention, said last week he intends to introduce a similar version of the latter bill. “Since such a small amount of fentanyl can have deadly consequences, it’s vital that we change the way we hold dealers and suppliers accountable,” Patterson said in a statement.
  • Todd Gloria, the Democratic mayor of San Diego, signed an executive order in late November directing the city police department to “strengthen and prioritize enforcement for fentanyl sales-related crimes to the greatest extent possible.” Gloria also announced plans to pursue state and federal legislation that would, among other things, create sentencing enhancements for fentanyl trafficking and sales near schools.

Another approach — opening safe injection sites, where people can administer drugs using clean needles under the supervision of health professionals — may not stand much more of a chance. Angering harm reduction advocates, Newsom in August vetoed a bill that would have authorized overdose prevention pilot programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, citing concerns of “worsening drug consumption challenges.”

  • Catie Stewart, communications director for state Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill, told me Thursday: “Unless it was clear it wouldn’t get vetoed, the senator has no plans to reintroduce the legislation.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Parent Says 10-Month-Old Barely Survived Ingesting Fentanyl at Popular SF Park

“It’s horrible. It makes me just reconsider staying in San Francisco and if we should move,” said parent Alexis St. George.

The San Francisco Police Department is investigating a medical emergency that sent a 10-month-old to the emergency room. The child’s parent says the baby ingested fentanyl.

San Francisco firefighters and paramedics were sent to a popular park in the Marina District.

San Francisco resident Michael Halpern witnessed the medical response.

“My office is right there. We saw paramedics and people and the stretchers going on. Then the mommies over there with the babies and the nannies and people in distress,” said Halpern.

The parent of the child posted on social media that their 10-month-old barely survived after ingesting fentanyl while playing at Moscone Park. On Wednesday, parents were on edge.

“It worries me that he is going to pick up something like that. Get it on his hands and then put it in his mouth. At this age you shouldn’t worry about your kid consuming something like fentanyl,” said parent Kirsten Chalfant.

In a new post, the parent said the nanny reacted quickly. After noticing the baby’s mouth turned blue and he began to have trouble breathing. According to the parent the baby was given Narcan an opioid overdose reversal drug.

The San Francisco Police Department confirmed they are investigating the cause of the medical emergency. The fire department said they couldn’t confirm the claim of the baby ingesting fentanyl at the park and added:

“We responded to Moscone Park for a pediatric patient in cardiac arrest. San Francisco Fire and Paramedics arrived on scene in 2 minutes, provided life-saving measures and revived the patient.”

San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani represents the Marina District.

“I’m a mother myself and I would say just to be very cautious and to look around and to know that we are doing everything in District 2. We are responding with police presence and have rec and parks respond in the way they can,” said Supervisor Stefani.

Luz Pena: “What is your office going to do? What are you doing about this?”

Supervisor Stefani: “What I have been doing is making sure that we are not just engaging in harm reduction but that people have paths to recovery. The whole purpose of harm reduction is to make sure that the addict doesn’t get sick from a dirty needle. But if our focus on harm reduction is actually potentially harming others we need to reevaluate that.”

Supervisor Stefani said the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will close the park after hours, and police patrol will increase but for some parents, this incident may be their tipping point.

“It’s horrible. It makes me just reconsider staying in San Francisco and if we should move,” said parent Alexis St. George.

SFPD Statement:

“On 11/29/22 at approximately 10:16 p.m., San Francisco Police officers from Northern Station responded to a local hospital for a report of male infant that had undergone a medical emergency. Officers met with the witness who was with the child at Moscone Recreational Park at approximately 2:30 p.m., when the medical emergency occurred. The San Francisco Fire Department responded to the scene and transported the child to the hospital for a life-threatening emergency. The cause of the medical emergency is still under investigation.

Click here to read the full article at ABC 7 News

‘We are not trying to scare you.’ In California, fentanyl now behind 1 out of every 5 youth deaths

Experts recommend fentanyl test strips to detect powerful opioid and schools stock up on Narcan to counteract overdoses

Jan Blom knew little about fentanyl when his 17-year-old son, Linus, went to take a nap in their Los Gatos home in July 2020.

By mid-morning, Blom discovered Linus’ lifeless body in bed. The cause of death? A Percocet pill laced with the powerful synthetic opioid that has fueled an unprecedented rise in drug-related deaths across California, and now is targeting its young people. Last year, fentanyl was responsible for an astounding one-fifth of the deaths in the 15-to-24 age group, with a total more than six times the number it killed a mere three years earlier.

For most of his life, Linus had been a stellar student and avid high school wrestler who aspired to compete for the national team in his native Finland. But he started taking pills he found online, his father believes, as a way to handle the intense pressure to succeed academically in Silicon Valley.

Suddenly, Linus had become a casualty of a drug 50 times stronger than heroin that has exploded across the country in the last half-decade but largely spared the West Coast during its initial surge.

“It’s hard to realize that your own son has become a data point,” Blom said.

Fentanyl overdoses are leaving their toll not only in tragically familiar places like San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin district but also inside teenagers’ bedrooms in some of the Bay Area’s most upscale neighborhoods. More and more often, users have no idea the drugs they are taking include fentanyl.

As a precaution, schools are stocking up on medication that reverses the effects of overdoses, and experts are recommending teens shopping for illicit painkillers and study drugs also buy test strips that detect if the pills are mixed with fentanyl.

“We are not trying to scare you,” said Chelsea Shover, an assistant professor of epidemiology and health services research at UCLA, who co-authored a 2020 study on fentanyl’s spread to the West Coast. “But we are trying to tell you what’s happening now, and it is different than what was happening a few years ago.”

The scourge of fentanyl’s dramatic rise in California shows up in 2020 as a startling spike in the state’s death records alongside another now-familiar entry: COVID-19.

Fentanyl overdoses killed about 4,000 people in California in 2020 – more than double the previous year – as trafficking routes from Mexico hardened and the unusually cheap drug began penetrating local drug markets.

And last year, for the first time, California’s death rate from all drug overdoses surpassed that of lung cancer and ranked just below hypertensive heart disease. The increase was due almost entirely to fentanyl. It killed a record 5,722 Californians in 2021, according to preliminary data from the California Department of Vital Statistics. That’s more than the estimated 4,258 people who died in auto accidents on California roads and more than double the 2,548 killed in homicides.

For teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19, the opioid death rate increased more than fourfold from 2018 to 2021. For 20- to 24-year-olds, the rate shot up nearly seven times. The spikes in death have occurred even as the overall drug use rate among teenagers has remained stable, experts say.

But here’s what’s really telling: Prior to fentanyl’s rise, the total number of yearly deaths for Californians ages 15 to 24 typically hovered around 3,000. Since 2020, that number has skyrocketed to nearly 4,000 deaths per year. And fentanyl accounted for more than 750 of those deaths in each of the past two years.

“This is going to keep happening until we actually respond,” Shover said. “The idea that one pill can kill, now that’s true … that changes what we need to be telling kids.”

Some counties have begun taking action as the fentanyl crisis deepens throughout the Bay Area.

Last month, Santa Clara County stocked up on Narcan, an over-the-counter nasal spray, which can prevent a serious fentanyl overdose from becoming a death. The kits are being dispatched to schools throughout the county and teachers are being trained on how to administer Narcan.

“We don’t want to have a situation where we have an unresponsive student … and we don’t have the tools to save that person’s life,” said Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Dewan.

She said that students are consuming study drugs like Adderall and common painkillers like Percocet, which they purchase from unlicensed dealers on the internet. They have no idea these pills are now often laced with fentanyl.

“If you are buying a pill off the street, yeah, it’s probably fentanyl,” said Shover. “Fentanyl until proven otherwise.”

That’s why Shover and other experts are recommending fentanyl test strips, which can be bought on Amazon for less than $10 a kit, to detect if fentanyl is laced in other types of illegally sold drugs. Sales of fentanyl test strips were only legalized in California this August when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill authored by Orange County Republican Assembly member Laurie Davies. Previously, the test strips were classified as drug paraphernalia and some states still ban them.

Teenagers are far from the only ones suffering from fentanyl’s deadly toll. The opioid death rate for adults between the ages of 30 and 34 reached a record high in California of about 33 per 100,000 in 2021, the highest of any age group.

Every Bay Area county is seeing a rise in overdoses, too. San Francisco remains ground zero with close to double the opioid death rate of the next most heavily impacted Bay Area county – Sonoma.

In Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, the opioid death rate more than doubled from 2018 to 2021 as fentanyl entered the market. In Alameda, it more than tripled. In Marin, it nearly quintupled.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

OC, Riverside County Announce Crackdown on Fentanyl Dealers. But Not LA County

Dealers who sell fentanyl-laced drugs that result in death can face murder charges under tough new policies announced by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin on Monday, Nov. 9.

“We have seen a 1,000% increase over the last five years as a result of overdoses and deaths by fentanyl,” Spitzer said. “Rich, poor, Black, White, Brown, men, women, children, hardcore drug users and first-time drug users who are exposed have died.”

Spitzer will add an admonishment to plea deals, in which dealers acknowledge that fentanyl is in street drugs and can be deadly.

If that dealer is involved in another fentanyl sale that results in death, second-degree murder charges can be filed. In Riverside County, Hestrin is prosecuting seven second-degree murder cases against alleged pill pushers on the theory of implied malice, and has several more in the pipeline.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register