The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a plan to work with schools to raise more awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and make naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, more accessible to parents and students.
If approved, the proposal, put forward by Supervisors Jim Desmond and Terra Lawson-Remer, would direct staff to work with state and local school officials and other stakeholders to:
- require fentanyl awareness education in classrooms,
- distribute naloxone to parents and students, and train them on how to use the medication; and
- seek out funding to support on-campus drug and alcohol awareness programs.
“It is a poison,” Desmond said of fentanyl during a news conference Monday. “Gone are the days of kids experimenting with drugs and not suffering dire, dire consequences.”
The proposal comes after the Board of Supervisors in late June declared illegal fentanyl a public health crisis, directing staff to develop a comprehensive plan to address the problem. That same month, Desmond and county District Attorney Summer Stephan hosted a virtual townhall for parents.
Accidental fentanyl overdose deaths in the region jumped from 151 in 2019 to more than 800 by the end of 2021, according to county authorities.
In a letter to the board, Desmond, Lawson-Remer and Stephan said fentanyl use among youth is a top concern.
Last year, 12 children — the youngest was 13 — died from accidental fentanyl overdoses, according to the letter, which attributed to the statistics to the county Medical Examiner’s Office. In 2020, five children died of fentanyl overdoses.
“It is time to target specifically our children, our school campuses,” Stephan said during Monday’s news conference outside the County Administration Building.
Officials said schools are not required to teach students about the dangers of drug use. Awareness efforts in local schools often occur during Red Ribbon Week, a drug prevention campaign observed in late October.
In their letter, Desmond, Lawson-Remer and Stephan said it is crucial for schools to focus on fentanyl, given its potentially deadly consequences.
“As trusted messengers, the education community is uniquely positioned to provide youth with this life saving information in a safe, structured and supportive environment,” the letter says.
The letter also states that students, parents and school staff should have access to naloxone and be trained to use it to be able to help reverse opioid overdoses. The letter calls on the county to work with stakeholders to obtain naloxone as part of the effort.
San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold said the County Office of Education provides training and resources to school districts that offer drug prevention and intervention services. He added that the office has had a “comprehensive substance abuse prevention program for some time.”
Efforts include school assemblies and classroom presentations about fentanyl and other drugs. The office last year hired a part-time expert — a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent — to supplement efforts to teach students about the dangers of drugs.
The office also provides naloxone and training on how to use it.
Gothold said his office supports the county’s plan to increase awareness of fentanyl and make naloxone more readily available.
The letter also calls for mental health education to supplement awareness of fentanyl. During Monday’s news conference, the parents of two people who died of fentanyl overdoses in recent years said their children turned to drugs to deal with mental health struggles.
Among the teens who died last year from fentanyl overdoses was 17-year-old Connor White, a Cathedral High School student who had a 4.0 GPA and played on the school’s football team, his mother said Monday. Laura Brinker-White said her son also dealt with anxiety, which led him to a drug dealer he thought was his friend.
On May, 5, 2021, Connor took a counterfeit pill that contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
“Connor did not overdose from taking a handful of pills,” Brinker-White said. “He died from taking one pill.”
She said she had talked to him about the dangers of drugs and tested him regularly after she and her husband found out he was experimenting with drugs.
“He had been present for multiple presentations about drug use and addiction,” she added, “but somewhere in his teenage brain he thought it would never happen to him.
“I’m here to say it can happen to anyone who risks taking an unprescribed pill,” she said. “We need to continue to build awareness in our communities and our schools.”
Dave and Rita Palet shared a similar story. Rita Palet said she found their 18-year-old son, Jake, dead Oct. 30, 2018.
Dave Palet said his son, an East Lake High School graduate, struggled with anxiety and depression. A drug dealer the teen thought was his friend gave him a fentanyl-laced Xanax pill that killed him.
“We still cry every day like it just happened yesterday,” Dave Palet said.
The Palets and Brinker-White said they hope their stories will save lives.