Dr. Ashanti Hands
Dr. Ashanti Hands, president of Mesa College. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Health officials, political leaders and school administrators gathered at Mesa College on Tuesday to call for greater awareness of the dangers of fentanyl — and for every student and home to have a dose of Narcan.

“Through awareness we can save lives,” said Dr. Ashanti Hands, president of Mesa College, during a press conference on the campus quad.

She said Mesa College has distributed over 900 boxes of the emergency antidote Narcan, plus test strips that can be used to detect fentanyl in other drugs. The college is also holding information sessions for students.

Hands introduced the chief clinical officer of San Diego drug laboratory Millennium Health, Dr. Angela Huskey, who described the dangers of the synthetic opiod.

She said increasing quantities of counterfeit fentanyl are being smuggled into the United State, and often mixed with other drugs to make them more potent. But the improperly mixed counterfeit versions are often deadly, with just a few grains of pure fentanyl being lethal.

Huskey likened the distribution of pure fentanyl in a counterfeit dose to chocolate chips in cookies, the number of which vary from batch to batch.

Scripps emergency room physician Roneet Lev said her shifts have become a “battlefield” of fentanyl victims, warning that “all illicit drugs run the risk of carrying a lethal dose of fentanyl,” especially if purchased online.

Rep. Scott Peters called fentanyl “one of the biggest health threats facing our nation today” and said he is helping lead efforts in Congress to stop fentanyl distribution and save lives.

The warnings included a tragic personal experience. A tearful Ramsey Atesalp described how his 18-year-old son Kai died in July after paying $8 online for a fake dose of the pain medicine Percocet that was laced with fentanyl.

“Someone lied to him and took his life with a counterfeit pill,” said Atesalp.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.