Photo: A Fentanyl Awareness Town Hall was held on Oct. 3 at the Wentworth Education Center. (VIVIENNE AGUILAR/CONTRIBUTOR)

The Wentworth Education Center was filled with community members concerned about the increase in fentanyl-related deaths in San Joaquin County. 

The San Joaquin County’s Office of Education, Public Health Services and Opioid Safety Coalition held a Fentanyl Awareness Town Hall on Oct. 3 to give Stocktonians preventative data and resources and listen to real stories from families of children lost to the drug.

Since 2020, fentanyl-related deaths have doubled in San Joaquin County, according to Michael Strickland from the METRO Task Force. Naloxone, a short term solution to a Fentanyl overdose, was given out for free at the meeting.

“I wish (naloxone) was an option for my brother,” Marlene Hodges, community member and Resource Aid at Venture Academy, told Stocktonia. Hodges lost her brother, Joseph Acosta, to “street Xanax” or a fake pill made of Fentanyl. Acosta died of a fentanyl overdose five days after his 18th birthday. 

Hodges believes giving out Naloxone is beneficial. “I’m not promoting drugs, but I’m tired of these deaths,” she said.

The meeting focused on explaining the problem, introducing harm reduction tactics and how/when to administer Naloxone, prevention resources for parents and educators, and addiction treatment resources in the county.  The full meeting was recorded on Youtube.

You can get Naloxone as a nasal spray at the San Joaquin Public Health Services Department and Aegis, opioid addiction treatment center, locations in Stockton. 

The Public Health Services Department on 420 S Wilson Way is open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Stockton. “Nasal spray is the easiest for us to give out,” Daniel Kim, the promotions programs coordinator said. The department is working to distribute Fentanyl test strips in the future.

Naloxone nasal spray, an opioid antagonist, was available for free for town hall attendees. (VIVIENNE AGUILAR/CONTRIBUTOR)

Victoria Beck, the executive director of Aegis, said their Stockton facilities have Narcan and fentanyl test strips. 

People ages 21-34 have been the most affected age group of fentanyl-related deaths, said Michael Strickland from the METRO Task Force. Teenagers are the second highest age group to be affected and he pointed out that date from the San Joaquin County Medical Exaiminer’s Office that Hispanic and white men in Stockton and Lodi are being hit the hardest.

The county is seeing an increase of fentanyl advertisements of “M30” pills on Instagram and Snapchat. “People think they’re percocets (when they buy them),” Strickland said.

During the presentations of prevention resources for parents and educators, Lily Pad Living  spokeswoman Deborah Sbragia showed a Snapchat and emoji decoder slideshow. She had personally collected examples of screenshots showing social media posts advertising fentanyl pill sales in Stockton. 

Multiple speakers asked the audience, specifically parents and educators, to be aware of these emojis and how technology can connect dealers with high schoolers. Fentanyl is cheap and widely available, said Ashlee Zarou, the spokeswoman for San Joaquin County’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program.

Fentanyl usage is such an issue in San Joaquin that it has been assigned a HIDTA task force since 1999, Zarou said. One ounce of Fentanyl can kill 20,000 people, and in this county one pill is as cheap as $3.

“We need to be giving out Narcan like we did condoms,” Sbragia told the audience.

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