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LA County Officials Launch Working Group Amid ‘Ballooning’ Fentanyl Overdose Deaths

LA County District Attorney George Gascón stands at a wood podium addressing a press conference. He wears a suit and tie and is flanked by other county officials, including Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Dept. of Public Health.
L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón (center, podium) and other officials addressed a press conference Tuesday to announce the launch of a fentanyl working group amid rising overdose deaths.
(Robert Garrova / LAist )
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L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón was joined by public health, law enforcement and education leaders Tuesday to announce the creation of a fentanyl working group amid stark increases in overdose deaths.

Why it matters

According to a new report from the L.A. County Department of Health, fentanyl overdose deaths went up nearly 1,300% from 2016 to 2021. Fentanyl overdose deaths among youth under 18 went from four deaths in 2018 to 31 deaths last year.

The backstory

Doses of the opioid overdose treatment Narcan were distributed in September to every school in L.A. County in response to recent fentanyl-related deaths among students. LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says that effort has saved seven lives.

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What’s Next

Details are so far scarce on how the group will work, but county officials say they’ll collaborate on prevention, education and enforcement. Gascón says he believes the county cannot incarcerate its way out of a devastating public health issue.

Here's what Jeannette Zanipatin, California director for the Drug Policy Policy Alliance, said during Tuesday’s press conference.

“To address the infiltration of fentanyl into our drug supply and reduce overdose-related fatalities, Los Angeles needs a comprehensive approach that includes... investments in harm-reduction services, the creation of overdose prevention programs... and establishing the proper social supports that individuals need, including access to health care, mental health, food and nutrition and job training and housing first models.”

Go deeper: We Have To Teach Them To Stay Safe' — High Schooler Dies From Fentanyl Overdose Amid Rise in Drug Deaths

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