BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The fentanyl overdose crisis continues to escalate in Kern County, where more than 600 people have died over the past three years – each of those years more deadly than the previous one.
Despite those surging numbers Kern County still does not have a dedicated task force to develop uniform guidelines and target one increasingly vulnerable population in particular — teens.
This is the latest threat: Rainbow fentanyl – brightly colored pills, powder or chalk-like blocks laced with the deadly drug, 50 times more potent than heroin. And this – reconstituted Jolly Rancher candies, which drug dealers can manufacture in their kitchens with a microwave and a candy mold.
But now, following overdose incidents at Chipman Junior High and at least two Kern High School District campuses – East and most recently North High – local school officials may be starting to take things more seriously.
Following a California Department of Public Health advisory issued last week warning school districts across the state about these new forms of fentanyl and urging them to develop policies regarding the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan, some are acting.
The Bakersfield City School District, of which Chipman is a part, will discuss possible new regulations pertaining to, quote, “administering medication and monitoring health conditions.” A district spokesperson tells 17 News that translates to fentanyl and Narcan.
And following a weeklong outcry from parents over a handful of overdose incidents North High is holding a forum, also Tuesday night, at the Oildale campus.
Countywide fentanyl task forces are not new, Sacramento County has one in place that includes the district attorney’s office, law enforcement, county public health, county mental health, medical providers and school districts. Among their policy decisions – who should be permitted to carry and administer Narcan, the OD reversal nasal spray.
17 News tried to ask the Kern High School District and Kern County Board of Supervisors leadership for clarity on policies related to fentanyl. Their response?
Not a word from the county Board of Supervisors. The KHSD released a statement late in the day saying they were proactively moving ahead on training fronts.
What message should these agencies be sharing with the public? Maybe something along the lines of what Audrey Chavez, who is with the Bakersfield AIDS Project, has been saying for literally years.
“It’s as simple as this,” she said, pushing down on the plunger of a Narcan demonstration device.
Narcan saves lives, Chavez said, adding it should be in nurse’s stations, alongside defibrillation machines, in school administration offices, and in teachers’ desks if they want it.
“We need to have these tools available,” she said.
600-plus fatalities over the past three years. Is Kern County prepared to do something in a uniform, organized fashion? Perhaps we’ll start to find out Tuesday night.