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Fentanyl causes a rise in teen deaths

This month, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer declared that LA could receive the first $1.8 million payment out of $4.2 billion awarded as part of a national settlement against drug distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation and separately with manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Over the coming twenty years, LA will receive millions of dollars to respond to the opioid crisis, which has become increasingly deadly due to the rise of fentanyl.

“Throughout the nation and across Los Angeles, the opioid crisis has shattered lives while powerful corporations watched the profits roll in,” Feuer said. “We filed our lawsuit to hold them accountable, change their conduct and obtain resources to contend with the impact of this epidemic on LA’s streets. … This payment is just the beginning.”

Since 2010, the rate of teen overdose deaths has remained stable, averaging around 500 deaths a year. But from 2019 to 2020, teen overdoses increased by 94%. In 2021 alone, at least 1,146 adolescents nationally (aged 14-18) died from substance-related causes.

While the data relating to overdose-related deaths would appear to indicate more teens are dangerous and taking illicit drugs, The Department of Health and Human Services reported 2021 marked the largest single-year decrease in adolescent substance use since 1975.

However, in September, Melanie Ramos, 15, died from a suspected fentanyl overdose after taking a fake Percocet. Alexander Neville, 14, died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020 after taking what he thought was an oxycontin pill. Zachary Didier, 17, also overdosed in 2020 after buying fentanyl laced Percocet on Snapchat. In 2019, Trevor Leopold, 18, died after taking what he believed to be oxycodone.

In California, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased by 625% from 2018 to 2020. In 2021, UCLA researchers identified that fentanyl contributed to as much as 77.14% of adolescent overdose deaths, far outpacing other drugs as the leading cause of substance-related deaths.

“That’s why we say fentanyl changes everything,” explained Julie Shamash, president of the Drug Awareness Foundation, which she founded after her son Tyler died from a fentanyl-related overdose in 2018.

“Most of the kids that are dead from fentanyl — It’s not like they used too much of something. It’s because fentanyl was in what they used,” Shamash said.

When Tyler Shamash died from a fentanyl-related overdose, he had been recovering from a long-standing addiction. He was at a sober living facility when he died of an overdose. It was later that Shamash and her family found it was fentanyl that had killed Tyler.

“The number one thing I want parents to know is never say ‘not my child,’ because fentanyl is killing anyone and everyone. It’s killing longtime users, and it’s killing kids that are trying to experiment,” Shamash warned.

Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid, 80-100 times more potent than morphine and 40-50 times more than heroin. It is odorless, tasteless, and as little as two grains can be fatal.

The drug first emerged on the market around 2015. At that time, the primary use for the drug was as a cost-effective way to cut and make heroin more addictive. But as opioid pills, like oxycodone, Percocet, oxycontin, and stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, became more popular, illegal drug manufacturers began to lace pills with fentanyl too.

Many teens are obtaining these drugs through social media and online, even getting them delivered through the postal system. A quick google search will yield multiple websites a teen might be able to purchase illegal opioids. Snapchat and other social media platforms are also popular platforms for dealers and customers to connect.

One way to protect yourself or someone else against a Fentanyl overdose, or any opioid overdose, is to carry Narcan. Narcan is an over-the-counter nasal spray that can help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is used by first responders, is needle-free, and is easy to carry.

Another way to keep someone safe from a fentanyl overdose is to use Fentanyl testing strips. However, to use a testing strip, the pill must be crushed and placed in water. This makes it less cost-effective for dealers and customers to test batches of pills, and there is no guarantee all pills you purchase are from the same batch.

“I’m not going to tell you not to do drugs, because you already know you shouldn’t be doing drugs,” Shamash said. “But if you’re going to do drugs, make sure you use with a friend, make sure you have Narcan, (and make sure you have) fentanyl testing strips.”

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