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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today convened a panel of experts to speak about strategies to combat the opioid/fentanyl crisis, the fastest-growing cause of death in California.

The webinar was open to all educators and parents, and featured subject matter experts from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, California Health and Human Services, local educational agencies, the California Department of Education, and the California Department of Public Health. Thurmond and participants discussed ways to work together to educate, prevent, and intervene to support and protect students.

In 2012, California suffered 82 deaths attributed to fentanyl overdoses, and last year that number jumped to more than 6,000. Fentanyl deaths accounted for more than 80 percent of all drug-related deaths among California’s young people in 2021. Often, teens think they are purchasing Adderall, OxyContin, Percocet, or Xanax pills, but drug dealers are making fake pills with the cheaper, stronger, and deadlier synthetic drug fentanyl.

As a result, most victims ingest fentanyl accidentally, thinking they are using something less dangerous. It can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is odorless, tasteless, and colorless, and one pill can be fatal.

Many LEAs have reported positive outcomes when they offer substance abuse intervention services on campus in partnership with local community-based organizations. The CDE encourages LEAs to grow and expand community partnerships that can bring trusted and proven prevention and intervention resources to campuses. The CDE has partnered with the Department of Health Care Services to launch the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, which will offer an unprecedented level of family mental health and wellness services on campuses through several different components. In addition, State Superintendent Thurmond is using his office to promote grant opportunities for aspiring mental health professionals—including outreach to candidates of color seeking to become mental health clinicians. Email mhcounselors@cde.ca.gov for more information.

Along with Superintendent Thurmond’s remarks, the webinar featured presentations by Anne Milgram, an administrator with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Laura Didier, a mother in Placer County, California, who tragically lost her 17-year-old son Zach to a counterfeit pill made of fentanyl and now works to educate others about the crisis; Dr. Sohil Sud, who leads the CDPH Safe Schools for All team and is a practicing pediatrician and associate professor at UCSF; Madison Royer, a senior policy consultant on Aurrera Health Group Integrated Care team; Erin Ross, a nurse with the CDE Whole Child Division; and Dareen Khatib, an administrator of health and wellness at the Orange County Department of Education.

A full recording of the webinar can be found on the CDE Facebook page. In addition, videos of prior fentanyl crisis webinars that CDE co-hosted with CDPH are available on the CDPH YouTube page. More information can be found the CDPH Overdose Prevention Initiative web page and the CDPH Fentanyl web page. Instructional resources can be found on the CDE Health Education Framework web page.

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