The Los Angeles Unified School District sounded a countywide alarm this week, warning parents about fentanyl-laced drugs after three students who ingested the substance nearly died.
The incident happened May 25 in L.A. County and involved three female teenagers who thought they were purchasing ecstasy from an online dealer, according to the Los Angeles Public Health Department.
Officials said that the teens received a bag of blue circular tablets, which they crushed and snorted before losing consciousness. A parent found them in an L.A. County residence. They were given emergency medical intervention including naloxone (Narcan) and a breathing tube, Los Angeles Times reports.
One girl suffered a brain injury that resulted in her temporarily losing the ability to breathe on her own. A second girl tested as having potentially serious damage to her heart due to the drugs.
As of Thursday, one of the three girls had been released from the hospital. The other two are now breathing on their own and eating.
This incident highlights the growing trend of illicit drugs and counterfeit pills entering the L.A. marketplace, the health department said. Officials said fentanyl and methamphetamine-related overdose deaths have increased in the county since the pandemic and have continued to rise at an alarming rate.
Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicated that there was an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during a 12-month period ending in April 2021—a 28.5 percent increase from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.
Last year, fentanyl was identified in roughly 77 percent of adolescent overdose deaths nationally, the county’s health alert stated. Officials also cited data from 2015 that 80 percent of drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15 to 19 in 2015 were unintentional.
As for the three girls who snorted the blue pills, it is unclear whether they will have lasting health complications.
“I don’t know to what extent the damage is going to be permanent or not,” Dr. Brian Hurley, medical director for substance abuse prevention and control at county health, told the Times. “It remains to be seen.”
The girls tested positive for cannabis and fentanyl, but not for methamphetamine or amphetamine—drugs that are often linked to overdose deaths. Other test results, including for ecstasy, won’t come back for another week or two. Hurley said the fentanyl is not commonly associated with cannabis, making the blue tablets the most likely suspect for the overdoses.
“The story was that the youths that purchased these pills, purchased them from somebody with a large bag,” Hurley told the Times. “So when we put this warning out, the intention was really for hospitals to keep an eye out for other overdoses involving purported ecstasy but which had other contaminants.”
The three girls were unable to provide leftover blue pills to examine but Hurley warned that “if somebody comes by with a big bag of ecstasy, we want people to understand that there are more significant risks than they might have otherwise expected. The black-market pills could contain fentanyl and other contaminants that can cause death.”
School district officials sent a letter to parents, encouraging them to “have discussions with your child about making healthy choices and about the dangers of ingesting any illicit drugs especially as we enter into end-of-year celebrations and the summer.”
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