Drugs: Organizations like SMMUSD have been trying to provide information to parents and students about the dangers of fentanyl in the local illicit drug market. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has issued multiple health alerts related to adolescents overdose involving the purchase of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl. Courtesy image

With overdose deaths due to the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl up 3,917% from just five years ago, the substance has been the focus of recent outreach and education efforts in the school district, city and county.

Members of Santa Monica High School’s Wellness Advisory Group (SWAG) club spent the days leading up to homecoming preparing a presentation on the dangers of fentanyl to share with their classmates. The presentation was shared with all of the school’s teachers to show in class and included information about how counterfeit pills laced with the drug are frequently sold through social media and what to do in the case of an overdose. 

In addition to the SWAG presentation, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Parent Teacher Student Associations (PTSA) hosted a parent education night titled ‘Fentanyl Explained’ last week and the City of Santa Monica’s Cradle 2 Career program discussed the topic at a Nov. 10 meeting. 

“The ultimate goal is to keep kids safe,” Santa Monica Housing and Human Services Division Administrator Natasha Kingscote said. “And educating them and educating parents is the way to keep kids safe.” 

Fentanyl is up to 50 times as potent as heroin and 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC. This makes it attractive to illicit drug manufacturers because it allows them to use smaller amounts while achieving the same effects, making it more profitable and leading to a surge in counterfeit versions of other drugs actually containing fentanyl –which can be deadly in quantities as small as a few grains of sand. 

A Santa Monica teenager died in February 2021 after he ingested a pill he believed to be Xanax, but actually contained fentanyl, which he had purchased from a dealer on Snapchat. Early this year, three SMMUSD students were hospitalized after reportedly taking fentanyl laced drugs. 

SMMUSD Coordinator of Mental Health Counseling Shuli Lotan, who also serves as the advisor for the SWAG club, said these incidents raised awareness about the issue among local students but also revealed the need for education. Lotan advocates for what she calls a “harm reduction approach,” which she said means discussing the risks of drugs like fentanyl frankly with students and “not shying away from information that kids really need.”

“Talking to kids about drugs is not going to make them do it or condone it, we just want to give them information so they can make a choice,” she said. 

She added that while it is important for adults to participate and facilitate this type of education, there is extra value in students learning from each other. 

“Adults can talk until we’re blue in the face and sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other, it’s just another grown up talking at them,” she said. “But when it comes from your peers, it’s a different view and it has a different landing, so I think there’s a lot of value in training youth to be peer educators and peer mentors.” 

Ivy Chang, a senior administrative analyst for the City said fentanyl is an issue that the City, District, County and community partners will continue working collaboratively to address. 

“I think everybody’s wanting to be very proactive around this issue to make sure that the information is out there for both parents and students,” she said. 

The LA County Department of Public Health is hosting ongoing informational sessions about fentanyl. Students can register for a training today at tinyurl.com/obsatraining 

grace@smdp.com

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