As Monterey County schools prepare for graduation and prom, COVID-19 isn’t the only concern on the minds of parents and teachers. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, continues to pose a serious threat to the community.
In Monterey County, fatal fentanyl overdoses tripled from 2019 to 2020.
“We stopped asking, when it comes to addiction, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ “Said Dr. Reb J. Close, emergency physician at Montage Health. “(Now) it’s, ‘What happened? Why are we here? What can we do?’ ”
Parents, students, teachers and community experts gathered at the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Wednesday night to discuss drug awareness and prevention tactics, as well as treatment options and community resources available to students and parents. families.
Unprescribed fentanyl is sold on Snapchat and Instagram in the form of counterfeit pills like Percocet, Xanax and Oxycontin. Almost half of all counterfeit pills tested contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
A 15-year-old boy from Pacific Grove overdosed on fentanyl in early March, and two Monterey Peninsula Unified students have died in the past three years from counterfeit pills containing fentanyl.
The panel included Close; Dr. Susan Swick, executive director of Ohana, a center for child and adolescent behavioral health; Donnie Everett, school district assistant superintendent of tiered support systems; and Anna Foglia, executive director of Sun Street Centers, an addiction treatment center with multiple locations around the county. The panel, which was held online and in person, was moderated by Dr. David Diehl, District Student Support Services Coordinator.
Swick explained that teenagers are attracted to drug use for several reasons.
She pointed out that teens’ brains undergo significant neurological changes as they discover their identities, form more intimate relationships, gain independence and work on impulse control. As a result, adolescents are more willing to tolerate higher levels of risk to explore new experiences, as well as to feel included in social situations. At the same time, a large number of mental illnesses appear in adolescence, which can make them more likely to turn to drug use.
“It’s natural to explore drug use, especially if they don’t have good risk information,” Swick said.
She explained that the most important thing parents can do for their children right now is to listen. She advised parents to have open and honest conversations about the risks of drug use and to help them find a way to say no to drugs in a social situation. Swick said embarrassment is the biggest barrier for teens who say no to alcohol and drugs, either to themselves or their friends.
Finally, Swick stressed that parents need to make sure their teens know that if they find themselves in a dangerous situation, they can always call on them for help at any time.
“One of the best protective factors is your child knowing they should never worry alone,” she said. “If something is wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable, rather than embarrassing them like they want to protect you, they know the first thing they can do is come to you and tell you about it. speak.”
Foglia said some of the signs of drug use to look out for include negative changes in schoolwork or absence from school; increased secrecy; new friends or changes in conversation with friends; increased use of incense or perfume to mask smoke; evidence of paraphernalia of drug use or sniffing of products such as hair spray, nail polish, and correction fluid; an increase in borrowing; and missing prescription drugs, especially pills.
But when it comes to treatment, Foglia stressed that the person must be willing to get and accept help.
“It’s never too early and it’s never too late,” Foglia said. “As long as you have this person in your life, you should keep trying. Do not abandon.
Sun Street Centers provides drug and alcohol addiction education, prevention, treatment and recovery services to individuals and families at all income levels. Full-time mental health professionals are also available at schools in the district, and parents or students can always go to the hospital for treatment.
Currently, there are no residential treatment facilities for youth in Monterey County, which Foglia says is a big problem and a barrier to getting the help teens need.
“We need residential treatment for young people here and hopefully we will get one someday,” she said.
Close says the drugs can also be used to treat certain addictions, but cannot be used in isolation. She said counseling and understanding of the reason for substance use, as well as community support from people with shared experiences, must accompany medication for successful treatment.
Narcan was also available at the event for students and families to learn to use and take home. Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone, is a nasal spray that can quickly restore normal breathing and save the life of someone who overdoses on opioids. However, Narcan will only reverse the effects of an overdose temporarily, so it is important to call 911 even after the person has caught their breath. The naloxone usually wears off in 30 to 90 minutes and the person may stop breathing again unless more naloxone is given.
Overdoses involving very strong synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, may require multiple doses of naloxone. Panel experts advised the crowd to continue administering doses if a person does not recover after the first dose. They also pointed out that if someone is unresponsive but does not overdose, Narcan will not harm them if administered.
Sun Street Centers makes Narcan available to the public free of charge. Some pharmacies can supply Narcan without a prescription, and the school district has 24 doses available for students and families who want one.
At least 46 states, including California, have had a Good Samaritan law since 2018. This means that if you have drugs in your possession when you call 911 to save someone who has overdosed, you will only receive no criminal charges for drug possession.
Andre Cook, a district parent and tutor at Del Rey Woods Elementary School, said he would absolutely wear Narcan after learning about it on the panel. As a former coach, he said he heard his athletes make jokes about drug use and he worries about the ease of access to drugs for students these days.
“We see it on the news, we read about it, there have been many cases (of overdoses),” he said. “To see that there is such a huge support system available in the community, especially in this district – to see such a strong team coming together that cares so much about wanting to make a difference and spreading this awareness – it’s is a great first step.”
The district plans to hold another drug awareness and prevention panel in early fall. Videos and resources are available at MPUSD website.