By Dr. César Morales, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools
Fentanyl is now responsible for more overdose deaths in Ventura County than any other drug. That’s according to a new report from the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office which found that fentanyl claimed 181 lives in Ventura County last year – a sobering new record. Most of those who died were between 30 and 50 years old. But the victims also include 13 people between the ages of 18 and 24 and one who was under 17 years old.
While the opioid crisis is nothing new, the sudden arrival of fentanyl on the scene has dramatically increased the risks and dangers to our community and our students. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It can be deadly even in tiny amounts and is often added to other drugs to make them more potent.
This growing threat to student health and well-being has not gone unnoticed by local educators. The Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) and local school districts are collaborating with county agencies to raise student awareness about fentanyl dangers and to give educators the information and resources they need to save lives.
One of the most effective tools to prevent opioid deaths is naloxone, a medication commonly known by its brand name Narcan. It is highly effective at reversing the effects of an opioid overdose and can be administered as a nasal spray. Naloxone should be given as soon as an opioid overdose is suspected. The telltale signs include weak breathing, loss of consciousness, and “pinpoint pupils.” Nine of Ventura County’s 20 school districts already have naloxone available on their campuses and several more will have it soon.
On May 2, the VCOE department of Comprehensive Health and Prevention Programs will partner with Ventura County Behavioral Health (VCBH) to present a workshop for school administrators and nurses about the current fentanyl and opioid crisis. It will provide information about creating and implementing school board policies to combat opioid abuse and respond to overdoses on campus. There is no charge for this event, and online registration is available at vcoe.k12oms.org/1626-232004.
Another key date in the local battle against student opioid abuse is May 9. That’s when VCBH will launch a powerful fentanyl and opioid awareness campaign geared specifically toward students. Called “Real Talk: Fake pills, 100% danger,” it’s a 45-minute video that schools are encouraged to show to students. It includes heartbreaking stories from parents who lost children to fentanyl. There are also compelling interviews with young people who started using opioids while in high school. One of them overdosed multiple times and wants to share his story to help other students avoid the dangerous path he took. I was honored to have the opportunity to record an introductory message to students that will be part of this important presentation.
If you’d like to learn more, the County Opioid Abuse Suppression Taskforce (COAST) has a website full of statistics about opioid use in Ventura County at www.coastventuracounty.org. It also provides addiction treatment resources and locations where the public can get naloxone kits and test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl in various types of drugs. You can find additional useful information about opioid awareness on the VCOE website at www.vcoe.org/opioids.