LA County officials come together to fight fentanyl epidemic – Orange County Register

Los Angeles County law enforcement, public health and education officials Tuesday, November 29, announced the formation of a task force to combat the escalating fentanyl epidemic by raising awareness of the drug’s lethality and the use of naloxone sharpen to reverse its effect.

At a press conference in the Hall of Justice, District Attorney George Gascon stressed that the joint efforts of all parties involved will focus on a three-pronged platform of education, prevention and enforcement.

“This is the best our community has to offer to solve an issue that will require all hands on deck,” Gascon said.

Los Angeles County’s announcement comes just over a month after Riverside County law enforcement and public health officials announced a similar partnership to fight the fentanly epidemic from all fronts and launch their Faces of fentanyl” to start.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore. (Archive photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore. (Archive photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

At the time of Riverside County’s Oct. 20 press conference, the county had recorded 338 fentanyl-related deaths, but Sheriff Chad Bianco said the county was on track to surpass last year’s fentanyl-related death toll of 407.

In addition to creating a new task force, Los Angeles County also released a 25-page report on fentanyl poisoning on Tuesday. It found that fentanyl deaths increased by 1,280% from 2016 to 2021, from 109 in 2016 to 1,504 in 2021. And from 2016 to 2020, fentanyl overdose hospitalizations increased by 98%, from 102 in 2016 to 202 in 2020.

Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for the Los Angeles County District, said that in 2021 the county had an average of seven to eight fatal overdoses per day, about half of which were fentanyl-related. Methamphetamine drove the other fatal overdoses, she said.

Overdose deaths among youth under 18 have increased nearly eight times since 2018, from four in 2018 to 31 in 2021, Ferrer said.

“However, adults aged 26 to 39 had the highest number of fentanyl overdoses with 626 deaths in 2021,” she said.

Although white residents accounted for most of the fentanyl-related deaths, when accounting for differences in population size, black residents actually had the higher rates of fentanyl-related deaths, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations, followed by white residents, Latinos, and Asians, Ferrer said.

And while nearly half of all fentanyl overdoses occurred in wealthier areas of the county, where fewer than 10% of families lived below the federal poverty line, the same was true when adjusting for population figures: fentanyl deaths are in the most impoverished communities, said Ferrer.

“In short, the biggest takeaway from the LA County fentanyl overdose data is that fentanyl-related tragedies strike everyone indiscriminately, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status,” Ferrer said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said his officers have seized 1.4 million pills so far this year, and that four out of 10 of them contain a dose of fentanyl sufficient to cause death. “That’s an amazing number,” he said.

Moore said the price of the average street-bought pill has dropped to pennies on the dollar. Five years ago, a pill bought on the street cost between $5 and $20, but now they can be bought for less than a dollar apiece, he said.

“Here, our young people and others believe this is an experiment or a trial or an effort where they can just see what’s happening and we’re seeing the deadly results,” Moore said. “This is the number one killer in people between the ages of 18 and 45.”

Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Deborah Duardo said her office has worked with all of the county’s 80 school districts to ensure they have the resources needed to educate their students and communities about the dangers of fentanyl, and do so all districts have naloxone and all employees are trained in its use.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that since June, 12 students in his district have been “affected directly at school by this fentanyl crisis.”

“One of my beautiful students died at school as a result of exposure to this drug,” Carvalho said.

Since September, about a week after Melanie Ramos, a 15-year-old student at Berstein High School, died of a fentanyl overdose on the school’s bathroom floor, the district used narcan on all its schools and every district police officer.

“Since September 22, we have saved seven lives at the school through the effective use of Narcan,” Carvalho said.

Juli Shamash, whose 19-year-old son Tyler died of a fentanyl overdose at a sobering facility in Beverlywood in 2018, is among a growing number of parents who have lost their children to the synthetic opioid and are taking steps to raise awareness and fight back

“To the parents out there who are thinking ‘not my child,’ think again,” Shamash said. She said she started her nonprofit Drug Awareness Foundation to raise public awareness of the dangers of fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than morphine. She was pleased to see the approach LA County is taking to address the issue.

“I’m here representing an army of grieving parents who are ready, willing and able to come into your schools and speak out,” Shamash said.

If the county really wants to address the fentanyl issue, it needs to focus on “harm reduction models” that provide support services to addicts and families affected by substance abuse, said Jeannette Zanipatin, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice and drug policy reforms. LA County officials come together to fight fentanyl epidemic – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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