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Fentanyl crisis focus of upcoming Turlock town hall
Law enforcement throughout the Central Valley have seen an uptick in arrests along the Highway 99 corridor after stopping vehicles that were later found to be carrying large quantities of the counterfeit pills that were in fact fentanyl. San Joaquin County deputies discovered as many as 20,000 fentanyl pills during a stop in Ripon last year that were disguised in hair gel containers (Photo contributed).

The number of fentanyl-related poisonings and death in Stanislaus County — and Turlock — has reached a crisis level. In response, the City of Turlock, the Turlock Unified School District and Stanislaus County are joining forces to host a town hall discussion regarding fentanyl from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Turlock Community Theatre, 1574 E. Canal Dr.

According to the Tony Vartan, Director of Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRM), preliminary 2022 data from the Coroner’s Office reveal that there have been 83 fentanyl-related deaths in Stanislaus County, representing 73% of total overdose and poisoning deaths; 11 of those deaths were in Turlock.

“Stanislaus County BHRS, together with all Stanislaus County Opioid Safety Coalition partners, is committed to fighting the opioid overdose epidemic and supporting our community,” Vartan said. “Collaboration is essential for success in preventing opioid overdose deaths.”

Representatives and panel members expected to participate in Tuesday’s town hall include Vartan, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hogan, Turlock Police Department investigator Jake Young, BHRS psychiatrist Dr. James Kraus and two families who lost their sons to a fentanyl overdose and poisoning death last year. Several TUSD student leaders and Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco (PHAST) Club members will also attend and assist with various tasks at the event, including emceeing duties.

According to Marie Russell, TUSD Director of Communication, Family Engagement & Outreach, the District was approached by the City of Turlock to help partner for the event. TUSD is a member of the Stanislaus County Opioid Safety Coalition and has shown virtual presentations on the fentanyl crisis to secondary students in recent weeks.

“Thankfully, we have not had any fentanyl-related issues in TUSD at this time,” Russell shared. “We feel it is important to help spread awareness of the seriousness of the fentanyl crisis in our community and the dangers this drug presents, particularly for our students.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that comes in two forms. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is used for medical purposes with precise dosages and is administered to people with moderate to severe pain, especially after surgery and should typically only be taken under careful medical supervision. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is illegally sold without oversight or quality controls and varies in potency. This form is being mixed into other illegal drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. It is also being pressed into counterfeit pills like Xanax, Oxy, Percocet and Adderall. Fentanyl is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Law enforcement throughout the Central Valley have seen an uptick in arrests along the Highway 99 corridor after stopping vehicles that were later found to be carrying large quantities of the counterfeit pills – which are often manufactured in Mexico using ingredients obtained from China and smuggled into the United States concealed in vehicles through legal ports of entry.

The California Highway Patrol office in Merced recently shared a bust where thousands of the pills – each one containing a potentially lethal dose of the incredibly potent drug – were recovered.

The increasing prevalence of “rainbow” fentanyl pills on the streets – the pills are dyed in a variety of colors other than typical blue during the manufacturing process – has prompted public health and law enforcement authorities to warn parents ahead of Halloween to be on the lookout, fearing that the bright colors will make the pills look like candy to young children.

At the town hall, not only will attendees learn more about the opioid and the available resources in the community, but they will also receive training on Narcan, which is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. Those in attendance will be able to take home a Narcan kit at the end of the night.

“Medical personnel, emergency departments, first responders, public safety officials, mental health and substance use treatment providers, community-based organizations, and members of the community [are] all [coming] to bring awareness, resources and expertise to address this complex and fast-moving epidemic,” Vartan said. “Together, we can better coordinate efforts to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths.”

For more information, community members are encouraged to visit or call (209) 525-5316.