The local school district is hosting a town hall for parents this week to warn of the dangers of fentanyl amid the ongoing crisis in California, in an effort by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to raise awareness about the synthetic drug.

Fentanyl is considered responsible for killing 1,125 people in Los Angeles County in 2020, a staggering increase of 3,917% over the number of fentanyl deaths reported just five years earlier in 2015, when 28 people overdosed on fentanyl countywide.

The Associated Press calls the abundance of fentanyl flooding U.S. drug markets “an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen.” According to the AP, the federal government counted more accidental overdose deaths in 2021 alone than it did in the 20-year period from 1979 through 1998. Many of those are due to fentanyl, a lab-produced synthetic opioid that is found more and more laced into other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and various pills.

The CDC considers fentanyl to be up to 50 times as potent as heroin and 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. According to the County Department of Public Health, in 2021, fentanyl was identified in about 77% of adolescent overdose deaths nationally. Fentanyl and methamphetamine-related overdose deaths have increased in Los Angeles County even prior to the pandemic and continue to rise at an alarming rate.

Between April 2021 and October 2022, the California Department of Justice seized more than 4 million fentanyl pills and nearly 900 pounds of fentanyl powder, according to AP reporting.

Here in Santa Monica, three local students reportedly overdosed in late May this year after taking fentanyl-laced drugs. All three were SMMUSD students and survived the ordeal after being hospitalized. A year earlier, Santa Monica teen Sammy Berman Chapman was killed after ingesting a fentanyl-laced pill he purchased from a dealer on the social media app Snapchat, which he mistakenly believed to be Xanax.

In response, back in June, the SMMUSD pledged to step up outreach efforts, with Drati publicly stating the school district would schedule a series of hands-on educational workshops for students and parents at Virginia Avenue Park, but as of November those have not occurred.

The SMMUSD town hall on fentanyl is scheduled for Thursday evening, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. and will be available to attend in person or virtually via Zoom. It is being hosted by the parent teacher organizations at John Adams Middle School (JAMS), Lincoln Middle School and Samohi, but all parents and teachers from SMMUSD schools are welcome to attend.

Drug Awareness Foundation’s Juli Shamash and Clare | Matrix’s Jolan Dawson will speak at the town hall to discuss the dangers of fentanyl, describe how teenagers acquire drugs today, and present ways for parents and teachers to protect kids.

Students are not invited to the talk, according to information from the District. 

“This conversation will be geared for parents; it would not be appropriate to bring students to this presentation,” an official flier for the event states.

Those who would like to attend in person can go to the JAMS Performing Arts Center Studio at 2425 16th Street. Those who prefer to attend virtually can do so at bit.ly/parentedptsa

The panel is also accepting questions ahead of time to bit.ly/3D04gIz

emily@smdp.com

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