Drug availability and cheapness have become a problem in California schools
Ambulances arrive at Van Nuys School one by one. At the gate, terrified parents wait for their children. Among them is Laura, mother of 12-year-old Rachel.
“I got a call from the principal, telling me what had happened. Then my daughter called, she spoke to me just a little bit, told me she was okay,” says the schoolgirl’s worried mother, hugging the girl. Ten students at Laura’s daughter’s high school, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were found at the school with signs of an overdose. Rachel was in class at the time of the incident.
“At the third recess we were told that the school was lockdown, everyone lock themselves in their classrooms, that something had happened and it was dangerous for us. Our teacher closed the door. I don’t know exactly what happened, but the pupils said that somebody brought some sweets and gave them to others to eat,” says the teenager.
Ramon, the father of a student at the neighboring Van Nuys school, had told his son the day before that something was going on at the school.
“Our son told me yesterday that kids from that school offered him some drugs. He refused. We keep telling him, never take anything from strangers, don’t eat any candy, cookies, nothing, he knows about it,” says Ramon, who came to pick up his 11-year-old son after school.
Seven Van Nuys High School students were hospitalized after the incident. Rescuers say they are all out of danger now.
“It may have been some kind of edible cannabis substance. It wasn’t fentanyl, their lives are not in danger. An investigation is underway,” Los Angeles Emergency Services spokesman Eric Scott told a news conference.
California was the first U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in 1996, and in 2018 lifted restrictions on use of the plant for those over 21. In Los Angeles, for the first time in the U.S., they even opened a cannabis restaurant serving cannabis extract desserts. It is added to the cookies and candy that the Van Nuys students allegedly consumed. That it wasn’t opioid fentanyl is emphasized by medics and police for a reason: Overdoses with the substance are breaking all records in California. It caused 109 deaths in 2016, and 1,500 in 2021.
Synthetic drug overdoses often occur in schools. Experts advise starting talking to children about drugs as early as possible.
“We need to talk about the side effects, the decline in cognitive abilities, the fact that at an early age the addiction to drugs is up to 7 times stronger than in an adult. And it’s also important to tell kids if something happens, if they do try something with their friends, let them not be afraid and call you to come and pick them up. That you’re the one to help them in this situation,” says Inna Jack, a pediatrician and child development specialist in Orange County.
Incidentally, it was parents who found 15-year-old high school girls in a school bathroom in Hollywood with signs of an overdose in September of this year. One of the students died before medics arrived. The investigation found that the schoolgirls bought the fentanyl pills at a nearby park. Parks are the most common places to sell and consume such substances. In one of them, in San Francisco, an opioid pill was picked up on a playground by a 10-month-old child who was walking there with a babysitter.
“When I arrived, he was lying on the grass in the park, not moving, and the doctors were trying to save him,” the boy’s father says. The boy survived by a miracle, doctors say. They used Narcan, an overdose drug, to save him. The Los Angeles Department of Education ordered all educational institutions of the city to be provided with it. Narcan helps restore breathing during an overdose of opioid drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, in the first hour of poisoning.
The availability and cheapness of the drugs, experts say, and the fact that teen idols talk about the drugs on social media are often the main reasons for the rise in school overdoses.