The fentanyl epidemic: county and school officials work to educate teens and prevent deaths


Photo provided by Drug Enforcement Administration

Earlier in the year, the DEA confiscated rainbow fentanyl pills from numerous states.

Concerns about drug-laced sweets are on the rise due to the emergence of fentanyl pills that resemble candy. Youth in San Bernardino County and America are experiencing a fentanyl epidemic.

Rainbow fentanyl has been the most common form of the drug shown in the United states. The drug can be diversified making it especially more dangerous. Rainbow fentanyl can be found in the form of pills, powder or blocks, making it easy to mistake it for things such as chalk or candy. 

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the trend of colorful rainbow fentanyl could be an attempt by the drug cartels to promote and sell highly-addictive drugs to kids. The resemblance of candy and vibrant colors is the bait in terms of luring people in. 

The intended medical use of fentanyl is to treat severe pain. According to the California Department of Public Health, it is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

When consumed, fentanyl attaches to the body’s opioid receptors. These receptors are found in places of the brain where emotion is controlled, meaning that use of this drug can lead to very extreme emotions. 

“Fentanyl overdose commonly causes respiratory arrest which can lead to death if not immediately treated,” Robert McCoy, the Director of Safety and Campus Officers for the Chaffey Joint Union High School District said. “What makes it particularly dangerous is that only 2-3 grains of fentanyl, the same size as 2-3 grains of sand, can be deadly.” 

More than half of drug-related deaths in the United states have been cause by the existence of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,622 people died of overdose in 2021, and 66% of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids. 

Fentanyl is odorless and tasteless, making people blind to whether they are ingesting it or not. It is so dangerous that just a single pill can lead to death. 

According to the California Department of Education, many tragedies have occurred because teens think they are purchasing things such as Adderall or Xanax, but drug dealers are producing and selling these drugs with fentanyl, which is ultimately cheaper and deadlier. 

Earlier this school year, BBC reported that, Melanie Ramos, a 15-year-old student at Bernstein High School in Hollywood, was found unconscious in a bathroom on campus and was later pronounced dead due to a fentanyl overdose. According to reports, she took what she thought was a prescription painkiller. 

The fentanyl problem does not stop at Bernstein High School, though. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least nine teenagers in the Los Angeles Unified School District have overdosed from pills suspected to be laced with fentanyl. 

Two weeks prior to the death of Melanie Ramos, a student also enrolled in Bernstein High School was saved by Narcan. Narcan is a regenerating nasal spray that helps backpedal the effects of an opioid overdose. 

In October, the San Bernardino County’s Public Health Officer issued a health advisory about the dangers of Fentanyl. In the advisory, the Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Sequeira explained how there has been a climb in death by fentanyl in San Bernardino County. 

In 2021, there were 309 deaths due to fentanyl overdose in San Bernardino County, whereas in 2018 there were only 30 deaths. The number has increased by 279 people within the last 3 years.

Sequeira said that these deaths are preventable, and working to help prevent these deaths is one of San Bernardino County´s prime concerns. County organizations are working together to prevent the spread and raise awareness. 

“The Chaffey district is conducting a fentanyl awareness campaign that includes parent and student fentanyl awareness seminars.” McCoy said. “The district is posting awareness posters in schools and creating student PSA´s that will soon be shared in classrooms.”

McCoy said that the best thing Americans can do is educate youth and others regarding the deadly threat fentanyl possesses.  Being aware of symptoms associated with fentanyl overdose may save a life.

According to the San Bernardino County Fire Department, people will not get in trouble for calling 911 in the event of a suspected fentanyl overdose. Some of the fentanyl overdose symptoms include slow or stopped breathing, being drowsy or unresponsive, snoring and not being able to be woken up, and having small pupils. 

If you notice someone experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately. The Fire Department stressed that someone will not get in trouble for reporting a suspected overdose to first responsders. The person is unlikely to survive if you wait too long to call. 

Knowledge and enlightenment can provide San Bernardino county with the power to fight against the fentanyl epidemic.