SACRAMENTO— Preventing distribution of the lethal fentanyl opiate through social media platforms and increasing availability and public knowledge of medicines such as Narcan to treat emergency overdoses of the drug are the focus of new bills Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highland) will introduce in 2022.
“Fentanyl-related deaths are skyrocketing across the state and nation, and as I wrote in a May op-ed, we can only succeed in confronting this surge of fatalities with an ongoing assault on many fronts,” Ramos said. “Any quick online search will list multiple articles about the exponential increase in fentanyl-related deaths due to drug use but also because of unintended exposure. Therefore, we must deal with both law enforcement and with treatment issues involving fentanyl ingestion or even incidental exposure. But we can’t stop there. We must also address the underlying mental health issues that may lead to substance abuse,” he added.
Over the past year, Ramos has met with the families and friends of fentanyl victims such retired San Bernardino police sergeant Steve Filson and mental health professionals such as Dr. Veronica A. Kelley, Director for the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health. “The loved ones of those who have fallen to fentanyl want to know that we are doing all we can to end this plague,” Ramos said. “I will do all I can to prevent fentanyl sales, to stop the fatal adulteration of other drugs, and to ensuring resources are available to deal with the underlying issue of substance abuse and other mental health concerns.”
The lawmaker observed that this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics announced that 100,000 people had died of overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. It was the first time drug-related deaths reached six figures in any 12-month period. According to news reports, the milestone data showed there are now more overdose deaths from the illegal synthetic opioid fentanyl than there were overdose deaths from all drugs in 2016. Reports also suggest the high number of deaths is related to fentanyl contamination of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and other drugs. CDC data suggested fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of the overdose deaths last year.
One Ramos bill would require social media platforms to publish their preventative policies that aid in blocking illegal activity and to submit those policies to the state Attorney General’s office. Although social media companies have announced the introduction of new practices to remedy drug distribution through their platforms, the actual implementation of protocols are not monitored or verified by state regulatory bodies. Given that all social media platforms create opportunities for drug sales to occur, Ramos said effective and documented proactive deterrents should be established and verified through the California Department of Justice. This legislation would also require social media platforms to collaborate with nonprofits, safety partners and people in recovery from addiction to develop and support their policies.
A second Ramos measure would create pilot programs to supply free doses of Naloxone and training in its use to parents and other individuals. The training would be provided by local departments of behavioral health and sheriff’s departments. Naloxone is a common treatment used in responding to fentanyl overdoses and is commonly administered as a nasal spray opioid blocker known by the brand name of Narcan. It is legal to purchase for consumer use, but not always widely available. A Naloxone Distribution Project is operated by the California Department of Healthcare Services and is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It provides free doses of Narcan to local agencies like schools, law departments and other community groups. “Making this treatment more readily available would help save lives,” Ramos said.
Another provision of this draft legislation would call for creation of overdose response teams within county sheriffs’ departments to investigate overdoses and to collect evidence of potential criminal activity. The Ramos bill would model the response team program after one used in San Bernardino County.
Ramos said language for his proposals have been drafted for introduction in January when the Legislature reconvenes. He added that the proposals will receive bill numbers upon introduction and is considering additional fentanyl-related legislation.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature.