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Madera Rotary joins fentanyl fight

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Fresno District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp gives a presentation regarding the drug, Fentanyl, during a Madera Rotary luncheon on Tuesday at the Madera Municipal Golf Course.


Widespread use of the drug fentanyl has become a large part of the opioid crisis plaguing law enforcement and killing people.

On Tuesday, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp attended the Madera Rotary Club’s noon meeting held in the St. Andrew’s Ballroom at the Madera Municipal Golf Course.

Smittcamp, a former deputy district attorney for Madera County, now heads the Fresno’s DA’s office.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid drug similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent, said Smittcamp. Legally, this drug is prescribed to treat severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. The brand names of this drug are Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze

Fentanyl acts on the brain and central nervous system like other opioids. It works by binding to the body’s receptors that control pain and emotions. The drug can cause the user to feel happiness or drowsiness.

Negative side effects of fentanyl are nausea, confusion, sedation, respiratory depression or arrest leading to unconsciousness, coma and death. The drug is highly addictive and, after as little as one hit, can hook the person, Smittcamp said.

This is all part and parcel of the opioid crisis. Drugs such as Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet, Codeine, Norco and Percodan are just some of the drugs being abused. Both Madera Police Chief Dino Lawson and Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue attended the lecture and agreed that the opioid crisis is a big problem in Madera.

“The United States of America makes up (only) 4.4 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes over 80 percent of the world’s opioids,” Smittcamp said. “The U.S. consumes 98 to 99 percent of the worlds hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin.”

Fentanyl in its synthetic form is sold illegally in pill form made in laboratories with unsafe conditions, many in China and Mexico, she said.

A graphic showed the amount of fentanyl it takes to kill an adult. As little as a half dozen grains of rice can be a lethal dose.

“Addicted to pain meds, musician Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016,” she said. “Many believe he did not know his pills contained fentanyl.”

According to the Los Angeles coroner, Tom Petty died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl in 2017.

The statistics are staggering. An estimated 2 million people in the U.S. has a substance abuse disorder related to prescription opioids. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. died from an opioid-related overdose. In 2017, the number was 47,000. It is also estimated that 20 to 30 percent of patients misuse their drugs, 4 to 6 percent will transition to heroin, said Smittcamp. Overdose deaths involving opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013.

Madera High School sophomore Jett Wattenbarger, 15, attended the Rotary meeting with his parents Dan and Kiley Wattenbarger.

Smittcamp said afterwards that he was a really good sport as he became the “designated teenager,” in the room. She directed many of her comments and warnings to Jett and ask him to spread the word to his fellow students.

Jett is a three-sport athlete playing football, tennis and volleyball for the Coyotes.

Smittcamp discussed the Fentanyl Overdose Response Team known as FORT in Fresno County. The purpose is to supply patrol officers in the field with Naloxone spray that can reduce the effects of an opioid overdose, often saving the person’s life.

Another factor in law enforcement’s war on drugs are the drugs classified as Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin. These drugs are prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. They have become popular and called Benzos on the street, Smittcamp said.

“American kids have anxiety,” she said. “They are often prescribed (those drugs) by their doctors and encouraged by their parents.”

Once they start taking these medications it’s hard to stop and some get addicted. They become cut off by their doctors and start to buy the pill from other sources.

King of Pop Michael Jackson died from acute Propofol and Benzodiazepine intoxication.

The Fresno law enforcement community has spent grant money installing billboards all over the county advising the public of the dangers of fentanyl and other opioids.

“Opioids and fentanyl do not discriminate,” said Smittcamp. “They kill everyone.”

When asked what the public can do in the fight the Opioid, Smittcamp said, talk, talk, talk and share, share, share. Talk to your kids and post anti-drug messages on social media.

Smittcamp said former First Lady Nancy Reagan took a lot of criticism for her “Just Say No,” campaign in the 1980s. It still works, she said.


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