Merced County Times Newspaper
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District Attorney announces new ‘One Pill Will Kill’ anti-fentanyl push

Occasional speeches and news reports about the scourge of illicit fentanyl in this local community are apparently falling short in terms of turning around the horrific numbers of fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.

Now local residents will be seeing billboards all around the region with big letters that read: “One Pill Will Kill.”

They’re going to start seeing new television commercials and social media posts with recognizable community leaders talking about the crisis and providing helpful information.

Middle school and high school students are going to experience interactive assemblies, and they’re going to be encouraged to get involved and spread awareness about the dangers that exist.

District Attorney Nicole Silveira revealed the details of this new campaign against the illicit use of fentanyl on Tuesday during a meeting with the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

“It is a silent killer living among us right now,” Silveira told leaders “It is attacking our citizens on many fronts. … In the last two years, we have seen 44 overdose deaths due to fentanyl alone. The youngest of those victims was 16 years old. The oldest was 64.”

Illegal and deadly fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that comes in a pill, powder or liquid form. It is often laced with other drugs (marijuana and methamphetamines) unbeknownst to the user. It is 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine.

“This is not just a public safety crisis,” Silveira said, “it is a health crisis as well.”

The district attorney provided testimony on adults in the area who were seemingly living very productive lives before they became addicted to fentanyl and lost all their possessions, and also teens who have died from a fentanyl overdose after unknowingly consuming the drug that was mixed into something else.

“It’s affecting our children and that’s absolutely terrifying,” she said. “Fentanyl is the leading cause of accidental death for young Americans — causing more deaths than car accidents, suicide or gun violence.”

According to Silveira, work on the local “One Pill Will Kill” campaign began last January when she met with members of the Merced Area Gang & Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

“They told me, quite simply, that we were not doing enough here in Merced County about this dangerous and deadly drug. So I reached out to the Sheriff’s Office, and the Merced County Office of Education, and with the support of the board of our task force, we were able to come up with a campaign to reach out to our community on three fronts:

• Television and social media campaigns

• Education awareness by assemblies

•  Billboards

The program, she said, will be funded through asset forfeiture. When money linked to drug sales is seized from local criminals, there’s a divvying up that takes place by state law: 65 percent of those funds that are seized go to local law enforcement agencies that participate in the seizure, and 15 percent of that 65 percent is set aside for the sole purpose of combating drug abuse and gang activity.

What that means is that this “One Pill Will Kill” program comes at no cost to county government coffers or the individual taxpayer.

Said Silveira, “We are taking the drug dealers money and using it against them.”

Meanwhile, the campaign includes the participation of the organization Arrive Alive that will be developing interactive assemblies at all 17 high schools throughout Merced County.

“Interactive demonstrations are important,” said Silveira, “because we all remember the War on Drugs in the ’80s, and there’s a debate on whether “Just Say No” was effective or not … We want to makes sure we are interacting with our students and empowering them to send the message themselves.”

To that end, the campaign also includes competition that’s open to all middle school and high school students who will be asked to create their own fentanyl awareness commercial on video. The winner will have the opportunity to have the commercial remade professionally with the help of the media team at the Office of Education. Winners will also receive $5,000 for their schools anti-gang and anti-drug programs.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure our kids are safe,” said Steve Tietjen, the superintendent of county schools, who was also at the board meeting on Tuesday.

“We have worked with our doctors across the county and our Health Department to make sure there is Narcan (a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose) in every one of our high schools and junior highs across Merced County,” he said, adding that his statement described a “sad” situation.

“Narcan is administered when there is an overdose,” he explained, “and there’s no negative side effect if it wasn’t a fentanyl overdose.”

The first “One Pill Will Kill” billboard went up last week in the rural community of Winton.

“The billboards are important because they not only seek to inform the public about the dangers of fentanyl — you know, parents, students, everyday citizens — but we also need to educate our drug dealers. They need to know that what they are peddling is deadly poison. And if they provide fentanyl to someone who dies from that fentanyl, they will be investigated for murder, and could be charged with it.”

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