A recent string of overdoses at LA high schools believed to be connected to the drug fentanyl has renewed attention on the opioid crisis in Southern California.
Fentanyl caused more than three-quarters of adolescent overdose deaths n nationwide last year, and more than 80% of overdose deaths among teens ages 15-19 were unintentional. That’s according to the LA County Department of Public health,
The LA-based nonprofit End Overdose is hoping to change the trend through intervention, training and public awareness.
Theo Kryzwicki, founder and CEO of the organization and a firefighter/paramedic in LA, discusses the growing opioid epidemic and ways to help save lives.
How big is the overdose crisis in LA?
I think it's getting much worse. The most recent LA County data that we have is from 2019 to 2020. It actually shows a 333% increase in overdose deaths for 12 to 17-year-olds.
Why are more teens overdosing?
The reality is that the conditions are different now than they used to be. The kids are experimenting with drugs at the same ages that they have throughout history. The difference now is that the drugs are far, far stronger.
Why is this issue critical to address?
You have people that are dying [of a drug overdose] now more than ever. … It's the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18-45.
Around 2008, the American Heart Association led a campaign called Family and Friends to train the nation in CPR because so many people were having cardiac arrest. We haven't seen that widespread uptick in this type of prevention and response training with the same fervor [for overdoses] as we have with any other public health crisis.
What does End Overdose do?
We provide accessible Naloxone training, identification and response. What we have found is that … if you were to go right now, and [look for] this medicine that can save someone's life, you wouldn't know where to get it. … What we do is we make [Naloxone] really accessible … and you can get it with a click of a button. You can go online, take our online training, it's 20 minutes on endoverdose.net, get a certification, [and] we'll send it to your house.
Naloxone is a drug that's classified as a competitive antagonist … and is the antidote to opioid overdose. It's on the World Health Organization's Lists of Essential Medicines. What it does is it reverses opioid overdoses. It's incredible and it works really, really well.
Why do you focus on harm reduction?
We have to do something well first. We have medication that can reverse an overdose, we have training that we know works, and we have platforms that we know can reach out and get to people. The first thing that we need to do is make sure that everybody can have it, and that everybody knows where to get it.
The other reason is because if you go to somebody and you tell them, “Hey, don't do drugs,” it's not gonna work, especially if they're already doing them. “Just Say No” led to the opioid epidemic so it's not really effective.
What are the signs of an opioid overdose?
With an opioid overdose, we have something called the opioid overdose triad. There are three signs and symptoms that are always concurrent in an opioid overdose. That's going to be someone being unconscious, having a low respiratory rate … which is they're not breathing very well … and something called miosis, which is pinpoint pupils.
How can people prevent an overdose?
We have something that's been developed called the fentanyl test strip. ... It's essentially a dipstick. You can use a small amount of the substance that you're concerned about, put it into some water, dip this fentanyl test strip into it, and identify whether or not [fentanyl] is present.
What's your vision for ending overdoses?
We'll have a very accessible resource where you'll literally be able to click a button [and] get any preventative medication and testing that you need, as well as any type of wraparound service — whether that's peer support … treatment or … therapy or aid.
We live in a modern society, and a lot of these technologies are already available to us. So there's no reason that we shouldn't treat mental health like physical health.