In the first five months of 2023, there were 208 “unintentional” overdoses due to fentanyl in Riverside County, according to Riverside County Overdose to Action’s (RODA) data.
Last year, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health released a health advisory to bring attention to the dangers of fentanyl as overdose deaths increased in the county. According to the latest available data, in 2021, there were 354 fentanyl overdose deaths in San Bernardino County.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is medically approved for treating severe pain such as advanced cancer pain. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
As part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to address the worsening opioid crisis across the state, he recently signed Assembly Bill 461 which now requires California State University and Community College campuses to have fentanyl testing strips available at campus health centers.
“This is a bill aimed at saving student lives and reducing the skyrocketing number of opioid fatalities among our young people,” said Assemblymember James Ramos (D-San Bernardino) in a press release. “One out of every five California youth aged 15 to 24 who died in 2021 were killed by a fentanyl overdose – either through the actual fentanyl use or by consuming another drug laced with fentanyl.”
Ramos is a member of the Assembly Select Committee on Fentanyl, Opioid Addiction, and Overdose Prevention and the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services.
Ramos and his constituents are no stranger to the ongoing opioid crisis. In June, the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) launched a county-wide campaign, “Fentanyl Doesn’t Care. But We Do,” to raise awareness about the unexpected rise in overdoses due to fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is a highly potent and dangerous substance, where just one pill can lead to death. With the rise in counterfeit pills on the market, it has become easier to acquire these life-threatening substances,” said Dr. Michael Sequeria, San Bernardino County Health Officer, via email.
“This legislation marks a significant step towards safeguarding the health and well-being of our students on California’s campuses.”
Roughly two million students attend one of 116 California community colleges per year, and 457,992 students enrolled across 23 California State Universities in Fall 2022, the availability of fentanyl testing strips across these campuses is expected to have a great impact.
The availability of fentanyl testing strips across community colleges and state university campuses is expected to have a great impact. (source: csusb.edu)
Juan Landeros-Tavera, a program coordinator for Riverside County Public Health, explained that the availability of these testing strips is part of a harm reduction strategy. Landeros-Tavera co-leads the District 1 Riverside County Health Equity Community Outreach Team where he provides fentanyl testing strips, Naloxone (Narcan) and other resources to those in need and are struggling.
“I’m big on harm reduction. One of the big strategies we have here at the Department of Public Health is harm reduction. The main idea around harm reduction is you give individuals the tools to use as responsibly as they can,” Landeros-Tavera explained. “Fentanyl testing strips is one of the big strategies where now you take away the guessing game from individuals.”
Across the Inland Empire, there are several organizations dedicated to exercising harm reduction strategies which includes educating the public on how to use Narcan, handing out clean needles to minimize health risks and giving out fentanyl test strips. Inland Empire Harm Reduction is a local community-based nonprofit organization that provides free mobile services to provide Naloxone, sterile syringes, disposal services, educational materials and referral information in the Inland Empire. Other local organizations that offer similar resources include Desert AIDS and Neighborhood Healthcare.
“I think the more people know and the more knowledge they have, the more likely they are to make better decisions about their health,” Landeros-Tavera said.
According to Landeros-Tavera, the instructions for fentanyl testing strips identify the amount of the substance needed to test (about the size of a grain of rice). The small sample of the substance is added to a small amount of water and then the strip is dipped into the combination. Similar to COVID-19 tests, after the specified amount of time, the strip will give a result that shows two lines for positive (fentanyl was added) or one line for a negative (no fentanyl was added).
Another substance called, xylazine (also called “tranq”) which is an animal tranquilizer, has begun to make its way to California. Xylazine is not intended for human use nor is it an opioid. There has been a shift with some local organizations who have started to also offer xylazine testing trips.
The California Department of Public Health reported that “there is no evidence to suggest that xylazine is common in California’s drug supply” as of March 23, 2023, but will continue to monitor the issue.
For those who are struggling with substance abuse disorders or want to support someone who is, visit RODA for resources or check out San Bernardino County’s Opioid Response Initiative.
This article is published as part of the Commonwealth Health Equity Reporting Fellowship.
Source: Black Voice News