The OC Health Care Agency (OCHCA) presented a candid information session on January 26 to a packed house at Fullerton Union High School’s Little Theater.
The topic was the alarming uptick in opioid overdoses in Orange County, mainly due to people unknowingly purchasing Fentanyl-laced drugs, particularly through social media outlets like Snapchat. FJUHSD Student Services Director Allen Whitten welcomed Orange County 4th District Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who started the evening by sharing dire statistics.
From 2019 to 2021, the Orange County death rates stayed stable except in the areas of COVID-19 deaths and accidental drug and alcohol overdoses which have almost doubled in the past year. The OCHCA also recorded a steep rise in mental health issues and a concerning increase in suicide deaths.
Dr. Veronica Kelley, Chief of Mental Health and Recovery Services for OCHCA, showed a 32% increase in the past three years of accidental overdose deaths in the OC population ages 1-44 years and identified the cause as artificial opioid Fentanyl ingestion that is increasingly found contaminating every nonprescription or recreational drug.
OCHCA predicts that 6 of every 10 pills sold through social media contains some Fentanyl no matter what drug is delivered. Fentanyl is odorless, clear, and often an indistinguishable white powder that is cheap and easily made locally or imported. 2mm, about the size of half a grain of sand, can kill an adult.
The popularity of manufacturing and distributing the drug is due to its strength that mentally addicts people quickly. The alarming tone of the presentation was because the infinitesimal amount of Fentanyl needed to kill a person is very difficult to determine (test strips require a sophisticated technique to be accurate), which is reflected by the exponential increase in overdose rates in Los Angeles and Orange County mirroring a nationwide opioid overdose epidemic.
Traditional relationships between drug dealers and clients are becoming trivial with the introduction of drug selling over social media platforms like Snapchat, where the enormous potential clientele makes keeping users alive irrelevant. Many accidental overdoses occur when someone orders one type of drug and receives a Fentanyl-laced pill or powder instead. One incorrect dose leads to overdose or death.
Retired narcotics officer and father Steven Filson, who lost his daughter Jessica to an accidental overdose, said, “Fentanyl changes everything.” People cannot experiment with recreational drugs at this time.
The presentation included identifying an overdose victim, how to administer first aid, including the use of Narcan (Naloxone), and Dominic Tierno’s heartbreaking YouTube video, “Dead on Arrival”
In addition, a Q&A panel included parents Steven Filson and Perla Mendoza (founder of “Project Eli”) with information translated for Spanish speakers.
Parents can combat accidental overdose incidents by learning about and talking truthfully with their children about these drugs: Fentanyl-laced fake pills and marijuana edibles. Learn about Narcan, how it is used in emergencies, and its limitations. Dr. Kelley emphasized that “kids need to understand about Narcan,” but it is not a foolproof way to combat opioid overdoses.
Dr. Kelley also emphasized, “Narcan saves lives,” helping many people by giving them time to get medical attention.
Parents need to make time to listen to children and teens as they navigate this anxious post-pandemic time and be ready to validate their anxiety and mental health issues.
Ms. Mendoza and Mr. Filson both pleaded for parents to really listen to their children and not be quick to offer advice or shame them into feeling better. Look for mental health resources, including free or low-cost options, at FJUHSD fjuhsd.org and OCHCA ochealthinfo.com/services-programs to find support.
All presenters agreed that young people need to be careful not to self-medicate with nonprescription drugs or alcohol at this time. It is just too dangerous.