Representative Kevin McCarthy discusses the opioid epidemic in Kern County

BACKERSFIELD, CA (Kero) – Congressman Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) held an event Wednesday to discuss the ongoing opioid epidemic and its impact on Kern County, where in response to the rise in fentanyl use among young adults, school districts began supplying campuses with the life-saving drug Narcan.

With a rise in overdoses on and around school property, many parents worry that their children may be next. Officials are talking publicly about what can be done.

Congressman McCarthy revealed the enormous scope of the problem.

“You have to understand, one pill can kill. And you don’t think that happens to someone else. It can happen to your family,” McCarthy said. It’s an epidemic.”

Kern County students see firsthand how easy it is for people of their age to find these drugs.

“Drugs, it’s really easy to get, even if you’re under 10,” said Dryden Mancha, 12, a student at Chipman Middle School. Dryden’s mother said he was a little shocked when a student was found on campus in Chipman last month with fentanyl pills.

Dryden said he was worried, but not surprised.

Some parents take the safety of their children very seriously. Maria Gamarillo said she decided to start packing her son’s lunches because she was worried that someone might drop drugs in his food.

Gamarillo, like other parents, says the fentanyl crisis in schools is a constant topic of conversation.

Another Chipman student, 13-year-old D’Angelo Quinones claims he often sees others smoking in the bathrooms.

“Just evil,” Quinones said. “Children shouldn’t smoke or else as they get older they will get strep throat or become addicted to drugs.”

Quinones says he hopes school officials will work to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The concerns of students like Quinones and parents like Jamarillo are the reason officials are meeting Wednesday to figure out how best to tackle the fentanyl crisis in Kern County.

A parent who is disciplined, attentive, and willing to have frank conversations about drugs and addiction is in the best position to help a child who may need help, says Kern County Behavioral Health Director Stacey Kuehara.

Kohara said about what a concerned parent should be looking for: “Things are important in the way they act, their mood, not caring about things they’ve done before, maybe they sleep more, they sleep less.” ‘Big behavioral changes’

These behaviors may, but not always, indicate that someone has substance abuse problems. Sometimes, these can be symptoms of a larger mental health problem that may underlie a person’s desire to self-medicate in unsafe ways.

“I think in order to address some of that, kids are turning to drugs, and there’s a lot of access,” Kohara said. “It’s very easy, things are very affordable, and unfortunately the drugs are part of that.”

Kuwahara adds that unlike before, the problem affects children of all zip codes, of different backgrounds, and of different ages. For this reason, she, along with other local leaders, is discussing what they can do to respond.

On the legislative side of the case, both Kevin McCarthy and Attorney General Cynthia Zimmer noted the difficulty in prosecuting and punishing people who distribute drugs.

“When someone is arrested for possession of fentanyl, they are tested, and we have twelve times more cases coming into our crime lab than we did 5 years ago,” Zimmer said.

For additional resources on the topic, or to get help for you or someone you love, there are resources available at Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services website.

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