Fighting fentanyl: Education versus misinformation: Part 2

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Four parents who lost children to fentanyl poisonings are featured in the “Dead on Arrival” documentary that is available to all school districts, including from top left clockwise, Amy Neville, Steve Filson, Jaime Puerta and Matt Capelouto. Valley News/Courtesy photo

As fentanyl deaths continue to rise, concerned parents who were directly impacted by losing a child from it created a public service video to help educate others. They hope the short film, “Dead on Arrival” will find its way to every middle school and high school to help alert young people and their families about the crisis that exists in their own backyards.

“Educating the public, especially our young people, about the dangers of taking a pill that might be counterfeit and rife with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, is our goal,” Matt Capelouto said.

The Temecula resident lost his daughter, Alexandra, in December 2019 after she ingested half of what she believed to be an oxycodone pill.

In response to the fentanyl epidemic, Temecula Valley Unified School District identified the importance of the film’s message and arranged for a showing at Temecula Valley High School’s theater Thursday, Nov. 4. As part of its Parent University program, district parents were invited via an email blast to the event hosted by Capelouto.

Jason Vickery, director of safety and security at TVUSD, is working on coordinating school assemblies throughout the district about the dangers of fentanyl with a goal of reaching the most students possible. He is also planning a second showing of the film in the near future.

While other local districts have not yet hosted a screening of the approximately 20-minute video, many are doing what they can to educate students and their families about the dangers of fentanyl.

Hemet Unified School District

April Jones is the coordinator of behavioral and mental health, general education at HUSD, and said regular educational programs are offered to students and families through the district’s many regional partners. A teen prevention class was presented by Riverside University Health Systems, Public Health at Hemet High School, Oct. 5, as part of its Overdose Awareness Prevention Program.

“The presentation educated 26 students on fentanyl, heroin and other prescription opioids,” Jones said. “Students were also connected to substance use counseling, if needed, following the presentation.”

RUHS, Public Health, provided an opioid education and prevention program to the district’s Peer Leaders Uniting Students program. PLUS is a proactive youth development program which empowers youth to lead, educate, influence and support their fellow peers. The PLUS Program, for students in sixth to 12th grade, is one of the few approaches in education which utilizes the natural channels of peer influence to address critical issues that impact positive youth development.

In collaboration with RUHS, a free interactive “Youth + Opioids” educational webinar for parents of youth and young adults in Riverside County was made available, Nov. 9. Designed to provide valuable information on recognizing the signs and symptoms of opioid use, addiction and overdose, it also offered details about local resources.

Riverside County’s OAPP offers information that can be shared with students and parents. The program’s goals include increasing the awareness and risks of prescription and illicit opioid use in Riverside County at-risk communities, promoting positive youth development by empowering students to act as a resource for their peers and decreasing the initiation of opioid use and misuse in Riverside County. Jones said HUSD offers a variety of services to target substance abuse prevention and treatment.

“In grades 6-12 we administer the Whole Person Health Screener,” she said. “This screener is a social-emotional screener that assists us in understanding the social, emotional and behavioral needs of our students. A few questions ask students about their experience and use of alcohol, substances and tobacco. Based on the results of our screening our sites have CARE teams that review the data and connect students to services and supports as needed. Our continuum of support includes teen intervene, seeking safety, drug and alcohol counselors, group counseling, individual counseling and even referrals to outpatient or inpatient treatments if necessary.”

HUSD also has Friday Night Live programs in its middle and high schools as well as an FNL Kids program for students in grades fourth to sixth. Friday Night Live is a prevention program offered by Riverside University Health Systems and facilitated and overseen by Hemet USD staff. Jones said that FNL incorporates the teaching of such critical life skills as leadership skills, character development, critical thinking, decision-making and refusal skills while providing participants with the value of membership and belonging. For fourth through sixth graders, parents are an essential element to learning. FNL Kids provides a structure in which collaboration between parent and young person is fostered and connections are made.

“Through our partnership with RUHS, we offer a variety of Parent Support and Training opportunities,” Jones said. “All of our services are offered free of charge. Services are provided in the school and in the home, based on student and family preferences.”

For any questions about the Riverside County Overdose Awareness and Prevention Program, contact Bianca Gonzalez at Bigonzalez@ruhealth.org or 951-358-7179.

San Jacinto Unified School District

“We are trying to take a strong proactive approach to any type of drug use, in order to be preventive from the start,” Sherry Smith, deputy superintendent of personnel services at SJUSD, said. “As a result, we offer the SHJAE project at our secondary sites, which is an anti-substance abuse program. We also conduct DDA presentations on the implications of gangs and drugs. Furthermore, San Jacinto has participated in districtwide Red Ribbon Week activities for many years.”

She said the district strongly participates in the “See Something, Say Something” campaign and provides health curriculum to fifth, seventh and ninth graders that cover topics such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The danger of fentanyl is a topic that is embedded in drug presentations provided to students.

“San Jacinto invests greatly in the school counseling program,” Smith said. “We provide full-time counselors at every school site and they conduct school-wide preventive lessons to every classroom and student on topics such as making smart choices.”

Murrieta Valley Unified School District

Drug prevention efforts at MVUSD are developed with community agencies it has partnered with to prevent and address substance abuse, according to Public Information Officer Monica Gutierrez.

“Some of the partners we have collaborated with to educate our community about the dangers of substance abuse are Loma Linda, Riverside County Substance Abuse & Treatment Programs and The Hill Recovery Treatment Center,” she said. “New this year, our Student Support Division will be partnering with the District Attorney’s Office to offer community training about fentanyl.”

In addition to regular community training, the district utilizes Substance Use Tiers of Support for Students. Gutierrez said all counselors and administrators are aware of these services and routinely refer students to the site social worker if substance abuse prevention and treatment has been identified as needed.

In Tier 1, high schools partner with local law enforcement agencies to provide schoolwide, or grade specific training on the risks of substance use. Last year, MUVSD piloted “This is Not About Drugs” offered by Riverside University Health Systems as part of the RODA grant to bring awareness to opioid abuse and prevention. Gutierrez said once the program can be resumed in person, it will be offered to all freshman students.

In Tier 2, insight, a district led educational program in which participants are guided to examine the impact that drug and/or alcohol use has on their lives, and to consider what actions they can take to improve their lives. It is offered to students who are caught under the influence or in possession of paraphernalia. Families can also self-refer their student if they have concerns. The school district’s Mental Health Team facilitates these Saturday sessions.

In Tier 3, students are referred to the Riverside Substance Abuse & Treatment Program. They assess individual needs and either connect them to a group for substance users or will link them to a residential program if they need that level of help, according to Gutierrez.

“Almost all the parents in my shoes have one thing in common,” Capelouto said. “We all found out and really learned about fentanyl when it was too late. I can’t emphasize enough the need for parents to become educated on this danger. I couldn’t teach Alex what I didn’t know. These parents still have that opportunity.”

The “Dead on Arrival” video is not copyrighted and is available for free to anyone on Facebook.

For up-to-date information, please visit websites created by parents who continue to try to educate others so there are no more fentanyl poisonings. A few of them are http://druginducedhomicide.org, http://ANFHelp.org, http://stopthevoid.org.