County to work with schools to increase awareness about fentanyl danger, access to naloxone

The overdose-reversal drug naloxone.
The overdose-reversal drug naloxone, known as the brand name Narcan, is displayed during training for employees of the Public Health Management Corporation in Philadelphia Dec. 4, 2018. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors directed staff to work with schools to provide naloxone to parents and students and raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Last year, 12 children died from accidental fentanyl overdoses, according to county authorities


Concerned about a rise in fentanyl overdoses among youth, San Diego County officials will work with schools to develop strategies to raise more awareness about the synthetic opioid.

The goals are to require fentanyl awareness education in classrooms, distribute naloxone to parents and students, train them on how to use the medication, and secure funding to support on-campus drug and alcohol awareness programs.

The County Board of Supervisors approved the plan Tuesday, Oct. 11.

“We cannot stand by as young people across our County die tragic deaths from fentanyl,” Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said in a statement after the board moved forward with the plan.

Last year, 12 children — the youngest was 13 — died from accidental fentanyl overdoses, according to county authorities. In 2020, the number was five.

Officials say that in many fatal overdose cases locally and nationally, young people had bought what they believed was a prescription pill, such as Adderall or Xanax. Instead, what they got were counterfeit pills that were laced with fentanyl, which can be deadly in small amounts.

The proposal came after the Board of Supervisors in June declared illegal fentanyl a public health crisis and directed staff to develop a comprehensive plan to address the problem. Supervisor Jim Desmond on Tuesday, Oct. 11, acknowledged the action and other ongoing efforts to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl.

But, he said, “more has to be done.”

“More and more kids are self-medicating and putting themselves at risk,” he said during the board’s meeting.

San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold previously said schools are not required to teach students about substance abuse, but he said that the County Office of Education helps organize school assemblies and classroom presentations about fentanyl and other drugs. He said he welcomed efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and to make naloxone more accessible.

County District Attorney Summer Stephan, who, along with Desmond and Lawson-Remer, put the proposal before the board, said the deadly consequences of fentanyl demand a stronger focus on preventing fentanyl overdoses.

“We know we can create a prevention program in San Diego. with the help of the Board of Supervisors, that can make a difference and can save lives,” Stephan said.

While some members of the public who spoke during the meeting criticized the plan — several said the board should do more to stop fentanyl from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in the first place — most speakers, many of them parents and educators, applauded the proposal. They said proactive education and prevention efforts are necessary.

K.C. Strang, executive director of the San Marcos Prevention Coalition, which works to reduce drug use among youth, said he hears from parents who ask why schools don’t do more to better educate students about the risks of fentanyl and other drugs.