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No end in sight for California’s fentanyl epidemic, Department of Health confirms  

By Gregory Karp, September 5, 2023

Plants, powders and pills are claiming the lives of many Los Angeles County high school and college-aged overdose victims, prompting one of the deadliest drug epidemics in California.  

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is commonly prescribed to patients who have undergone surgeries, treating severe pain in the shape of a pill. Where a patient may find relief from excessive pain, however, drug peddlers strive for monetary gain from the opioid. 

Large cities and suburban neighborhoods are ground-zero for illicit drug manufacturers, processing the synthetic opioid into other drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and counterfeit “pressed” pills. 

Cal Poly Pomona Police Lieutenant Robert Brockenbrough has extensive knowledge on the manufacturing of synthetic fentanyl and the process behind pill pressing.   

“There’s some individuals who actually buy pill presses and they’ll use fentanyl, because it’s cheaper to buy – to press into pills that look like other drugs,” said Brockenbrough. 

In L.A. County alone, the death toll has risen from 109 in 2016, to a staggering 1,504 in 2021, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

Last year, fentanyl was found responsible for 55% of all overdose deaths across LA County, claiming many as young as 12 years old. Opioid-related deaths in children are due to unintentionally exposed drug contents, left unsupervised by a parent or guardian. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the Campus Opioid Safety Act Aug. 29, 2022, aiming to reduce opioid-related overdoses and deaths in public colleges and universities. 

Effective Jan.1, the senate bill allows college students across California State University campuses access to life-saving education, information and federally approved overdose-reversing medication.   

In the event of a fentanyl overdose occurring on campus, both university police and emergency medical services have access to Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray capable of resuscitating overdose victims.  

“Officers who have been trained here are equipped to administer Narcan and assist potential individuals suffering from an opioid-related overdose,” said Brockenbrough. 

According to the LA Department of Health Services, local emergency medical services agencies have direct access to naloxone kits and are accessible to personnel through the department’s distribution process. 

While EMS and L.A. County police departments have access to naloxone, many CPP organizations are not equipped with Narcan, relying on UPD or EMS for assistance in the resuscitation of victims.  

The Student Health and Wellness Center is the only other campus facility where Narcan is administered, excluding other services like Associated Students Incorporated, The Cal Poly Pomona Foundation, Bronco Student Center, and Children’s Center.   

ASI Aquatics Manager Alejandra Gomez maintains student safety from the Bronco Recreation and Intramural Complex pool, trained to save lives of drowning or overdose-related victims.  

“We train to that standard, where our goal, if we’re ever put in that situation, is to do everything we can to maintain that person’s life until more advanced medical correspondence comes,” said Gomez.  

In her limited understanding of synthetic opioids and the mass fatalities tied to them, Gomez depicts a scenario of an individual suffering from a drug overdose, pausing after uttering the word, “student.”  

“In that case, hopefully this never happens, but you know a student comes in and they’re experiencing overdose-like symptoms,” said Gomez. “Our students can help by providing CPR, giving oxygen and providing care for those students – in the case that that never happens.” 

Though CPP students are unlikely to be the next target of a fentanyl overdose, researching the effects from opioid consumption, abuse and addiction is important to their understanding of the state-wide drug epidemic.  

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At an increasing rate of Southern California overdose victims, more people have friends and loved ones at risk of grappling with the dangers of fentanyl, through rapid distribution rates in neighborhoods.  

Sitting outside the BRIC, an electrical engineering student and former federal agent spoke about his experience in law enforcement and the long-term effects of fentanyl on addicts going through withdrawals. The source requested to remain anonymous for safety reasons. 

 “You do it long enough, you live long enough doing it and you lose a lot of weight,” he said. “Your behavior can begin to become erratic, if you can’t get the drug of choice.” 

 The source said his 5 years dedicated to law enforcement includes first-hand experiences to individuals undergoing symptoms of withdrawals stemming from various drug addictions. As to his accounts of manufactured opioids, his time working in a gang task force opened his eyes to pill splicing and the common items used to distribute them.  

 “I never worked in a drug task force, I dealt with a gang task force, so it is highly likely they like to stomp it out, so they can get more product out with items like baby powder and insecticide,” the source said. 

 Considering the growing number of fentanyl-related deaths across California, the threat of illicitly processed fentanyl remains on LA County’s streets, in homes and in the minds of concerned residents. 

 The safest way around this threat is to stay informed on the epidemic, research local clinics supplying available Narcan and communicate with EMS and local law enforcement on safety measures.  

 Students may visit the Health and Wellness Center on campus or call 909-869-4000 to learn more about the California fentanyl epidemic from campus medical staff.  

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