In September two San Diego students were rushed to the hospital for symptoms related to what the press called tainted marijuana. Although no one has stated what tainted the marijuana, it was likely fentanyl.
The good news is the students survived, but that is not always the case. In the same month three people in San Diego died after ingesting fentanyl, and this deadly drug is increasingly appearing in marijuana and other street drugs.
Two milligrams of pure fentanyl — about the size of about four grains of salt — is enough to kill an average adult. And there is no way to tell if a drug contains fentanyl just by looking at it, especially if it is already mixed with marijuana. A teenager could unwittingly smoke fentanyl-laced marijuana and die. That should concern all of us.
Legalization of marijuana in the State of California made it easier for minors to obtain and the stigma of marijuana smoking is essentially a thing of the past. This only compounds the need to educate the public on the dangers of purchasing marijuana on the streets as it could be laced with fentanyl.
Much of the fentanyl we see on our streets is smuggled across our border from Mexico. In August a 19-year-old U.S. citizen living in Tijuana was arrested at the San Ysidro port of entry with nearly 11,500 fentanyl pills, believed to be the largest batch ever seized at the border. A lot of the Fentanyl lands right here on the streets of San Diego.
Now, for the first time on record, the odds of accidentally dying from an opioid overdose in the United States are greater than those of dying in an automobile accident.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid pain medication. It is about 100 times more powerful than morphine, and about 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl is being found mixed into almost every drug on the street, whether it be heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, fake Xanax, marijuana or other counterfeit pills.
There is a synthetic form of marijuana commonly referred to as “spice” and it is often laced with extremely dangerous levels of fentanyl. Ingesting drugs laced with Fentanyl can cause respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, coma and death.
Luckily there is a way to combat an overdose. Naloxone, also known by the brand Narcan, can reverse an opioid overdose. This life-saving medication can be administered in two forms, an injection or a nasal spray.
Many local schools have trained their nurses and school police in the administration of Narcan, but when it comes to an overdose, minutes and even seconds matter. Since fentanyl is currently responsible for most of the overdose deaths in this country, we need to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to student safety and drug overdoses.
That is why the San Diego County Office of Education is actively working with partners like the Drug Enforcement Administration, public health agencies, and community partners to address spice, fentanyl, and other illegal drugs. Even one incident of an overdose in our schools is too many, and we’re committed to working with school districts to prevent overdoses and deaths.
The County Office of Education is in the process of designing curriculum for use in classrooms as well as exploring training teachers and nurses to use Narcan to reverse overdoses. Students are also playing a key part in this, through Friday Night Live clubs that focus on promoting healthy lifestyles free of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among youth of all ages.
More needs to be done, and by getting the message out on the dangers of Fentanyl and educating our community, we will save lives.
Mark Powell is vice-president on the San Diego County Board of Education on is on the board of directors for the San Diego Association of Realtors.