STOCKTON, Calif. — The San Joaquin County Opioid Safety Coalition along with county education and public health officials hosted a hybrid virtual and in-person town hall to inform community members about the growing issues surrounding fentanyl. It's a dangerous synthetic opioid which the U.S. Department of Justice describes as the most dangerous drug facing the nation.
Half of all fentanyl-related deaths in San Joaquin County since 2019 have occurred in people ages 14 to 35, said San Joaquin County Public Health Office Dr. Maggie Park. Officials hope Monday’s town hall will provide vital information to prevent further deaths related to overdoses and poisonings.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a problem in our schools per se, but it is in the communities and we know that students have gotten access to it and we know that we’ve had some deaths as a result of it,” said Nora Hana, a director with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
Fentanyl can be as much as 100-times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC. The drug is often laced in heroin, cocaine or counterfeit prescription pills., which has been linked to a number of overdose deaths, according to San Joaquin County.
Chris and Laura Didier spoke with the audience about their son Zach Didier, 17, a Whitney High School student who died of fentanyl poisoning after he took a pill he believed to be Percocet. The parents have since spoken to some 18,000 students across the region about the dangers of fentanyl.
“Where someone is taking something that they think is harmless and not realized what they’re taking is deadly and it’s poisoning them,” Chris Didier said. “And that’s something that’s important because Zach’s death was not an addiction death, it’s not a party death, it was something he didn’t really understand the enormity of the danger.”
More than 50 people attended the event in person at the San Joaquin County Office of Education Wentworth Education Center in Stockton, California. Parents and students from across the area learned about the drug, which is often found in counterfeit pills, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“The age range of more than half the deaths related to fentanyl in our county since 2019 has been between 14 to 35, which is alarming,” said San Joaquin Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park. “Therefore, we need to educate the public, especially our children, on the abuse of illicitly produced fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. Fortunately, today’s townhall provides an opportune platform for education, prevention and action, which we all should take advantage of and support.”
Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased 30 fold since 2020 in San Joaquin County, according to data from the California Department of Public Health Opioid Surveillance Dashboard. The rate continues to climb, according to San Joaquin County officials.
“Fentanyl is one of the most critical issues impacting our community,” said District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is committed to combatting the fentanyl crisis with our fellow law enforcement agencies through education, awareness, prevention, and prosecution of those who distribute this lethal opioid in our County.”
Guest speakers offered information to parents on the realities of fentanyl and provided training on how to speak to their children. Experts also provided a demonstration on the life saving overdose spray naloxone, which was also provided to attendees.