Palmdale’s #FightFentanylAV shows the power of a united community

Nov 1, 2023

Nardy Lopez is the deputy city manager for the city of Palmdale. She can be reached

Concerned about the growing number of fentanyl-related deaths, city officials in Palmdale knew they had to do something. But they also realized they could not enforce their way out of the crisis. Working with key stakeholders, the city launched #FightFentanylAV — an initiative aimed at reducing drug overdose deaths through education and community engagement.  

The campaign has made significant strides in safeguarding the city’s residents, especially youth. “The fentanyl epidemic has targeted our youth and run rampant throughout our communities and devastated families,” said Keisha Como, a prevention program coordinator for Change Lanes Youth Support Services. “I joined the fentanyl action team committee to do the work instead of just talking about the problem.”

What the fentanyl crisis looks like

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent and deadly synthetic opioid. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin and relatively cheap. Without the user’s knowledge, it is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine. Fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. 

Fentanyl is highly addictive and can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Effects can include unconsciousness, coma, and death. 

The consequences of fentanyl abuse are catastrophic and staggering. Over 6,000 Californians died from fentanyl in 2022, according to new estimates from the state. Both state and federal agencies state this number is an undercount due to incomplete data. Regardless, fentanyl hits communities hard.

“Arnold was loved by family and blessed with many friends,” said Graciela Baez, a Palmdale resident who lost her son to a fentanyl overdose. “He would bring happiness into any room he entered. Arnold attended a party where deadly pills were present, and he overdosed. Arnold was a typical kid who went to a party. He didn’t have to die.”

Baez warns parents to be aware of new friends in their child’s life and monitor their social media accounts. “Fentanyl is often sold on social media sites, allowing for messages to disappear easily and not leave evidence of illegal activity,” she said.

Empowering and connecting the community

The Palmdale city council first learned about the growing number of fentanyl deaths while holding virtual town halls on mental health during the pandemic. Staff realized that the city’s existing communication tools and partnerships could serve as a springboard for a fentanyl awareness and prevention campaign. Officials launched the first campaign discussion in October 2022.

The discussion attracted over 50 stakeholders — something that would be key to the campaign’s ongoing success. The original partnership included service providers, school districts, community-based organizations, and other community members. A diverse group of organizations, public agencies, and healthcare professionals soon joined the campaign, recognizing the urgent need to address the crisis. Working together, they reached a broad audience and provided a wide range of resources and services to the community.

One of the campaign’s first major initiatives was to organize a community event at a Palmdale park. The event catalyzed the community to join hands in the fight against this deadly opioid, serving as a call to action.

The positive sentiments shared with the service providers at the event confirmed that the community wanted and embraced the work being done by the campaign. One resident noted that the event gave them hope that other families would not experience the pain their family was living with.   

Read the full story in the November issue of  Western City magazine.

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