BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Congressman Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) held an event on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing opioid epidemic and its impact on Kern County, where in response to the rise of fentanyl use among youth, school districts have begun supplying campuses with the potentially life-saving overdose-recovery drug Narcan.
With a spike in overdoses happening in and around school property, many parents are worried their children could be next. Officials are speaking out about what can be done.
Congressman McCarthy laid bare the nearly overwhelming scope of the problem.
“You have to understand, one pill can kill. And don’t think it’s happening to someone else. It could happen to your own family,” said McCarthy. “What we are seeing is it’s being laced in every form. It is an epidemic.”
Kern County students see firsthand how easy it is for people their age to find these drugs.
“Drugs, it’s just really easy to get, even if you are under the age of 10,” said Drayden Mancha, 12, a student at Chipman Middle School. Drayden’s mom said he was a little shaken up when a student was found on campus at Chipman last month with fentanyl pills.
Drayden said he was concerned, but not surprised.
Some parents are taking their children’s safety very seriously. Maria Jamarillo said she had decided to start packing her son’s lunches because she is concerned that someone might drop drugs into his food.
Jamarillo, like other parents, says the fentanyl crisis in the schools is a constant topic of conversation.
13-year-old D’Angelo Quinones, another Chipman student, claims he often sees others smoking in the bathrooms.
“Just badness,” said Quinones. “Kids shouldn’t be smoking or else when they are older they will have a throat or be drug addicts.”
Quinones says he hopes school officials are working to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The worries of students like Quinones and parents like Jamarillo are why officials came together Wednesday to figure out the best way to address the fentanyl crisis in Kern County.
Stacy Kuwahara, Behavioral Health Director for Kern County says a parent who is tuned in, attentive, and willing to have frank conversations about drugs and addiction is in the best position to help a child who might need help.
“Significant things in the way they are behaving, their mood, lack of interest in things they previous did, maybe they are sleeping more, sleeping less,” said Kuwahara about what a parent who is concerned should look for. “Significant behavioral changes”
These behaviors could, but don’t necessarily always, suggest that someone is having problems with substance use. Sometimes, these can be symptoms of a larger mental health issue that may underlie a person’s desire to self-medicate in unsafe ways.
“I think in order to address some of that, kids are turning to drugs, and there is a lot of accessibility,” said Kuwahara. “It is very easy, things are very accessible, and unfortunately drugs are a part of that.”
Kuwahara adds that unlike before, the issue is affecting kids from all zip codes, from different backgrounds, and of different ages. For this reason, she, along with other local leaders, are discussing what they can do to respond.
On the legislative side of the issue, both Kevin McCarthy and District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer pointed out the difficulty of prosecuting and sentencing the people who are distributing the drugs.
“When someone is arrested for possession of fentanyl, it is tested, and we have twelve times the humber of cases that come to our crime lab than we did 5 years ago,” said Zimmer.
For additional resources on the topic, or to get help for you or someone you love, there are resources available at the Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services website.