California schools will take additional steps to protect students from fentanyl under new law

California is now one of just a handful of states that will require students to learn about the dangers of opioids, including information about deadly synthetic pills containing fentanyl, under legislation signed on Oct. 13 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Senate Bill 10 mandates that every public school serving students grades 7-12 include the development of a protocol in the event a pupil is suffering or is reasonably believed to be suffering from an opioid overdose under a formal plan known as a Comprehensive School Safety Plan, or CSSP. The bill also establishes a state framework to ensure all students understand the growing risk of fentanyl exposure and have access to the resources needed to prevent and respond to fentanyl poisoning and overdoses.

SB 10, also known as Melanie’s Law, was named in honor of Melanie Ramos, a 15-year-old who accidentally overdosed on fentanyl and died in the bathroom of her high school in September 2022. [Learn more about her story and what steps local educational agencies have taken to this point to protect students in the spring 2023 issue of California Schools.]

“SB 10 was our top priority because fentanyl has left a trail of devastation across California, and our bill establishes a series of concrete solutions to protect young people,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Cortese (D-San Jose). “We created a coalition of parents and educators unwilling to stand by while another young life is lost. This law will train educators on life-saving fentanyl response and give students and adults the resources and knowledge to stop the opioid epidemic in their communities. As we celebrate SB 10 becoming law, we honor Melanie Ramos, a bright teenager who lost her life to fentanyl. Melanie’s Law will save young lives in California for decades to come.”

A report released Sept. 1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the rate of counterfeit pill use in overdose deaths more than doubled from July through September 2019 to October through December 2021. Those who died from counterfeit pill use were younger, more often Hispanic or Latino.

According to the CDC, there was a 169 percent increase in deaths from illicit fentanyl and synthetics from 2019 to 2020 among teens ages 14-18, and a nearly 30 percent increase from 2020 to 2021.

California’s SB 10 was inspired by the Santa Clara County Fentanyl Working Group — a collaborative effort involving the Santa Clara County Office of Education, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services and the Santa Clara County Opioid Overdose Prevention Project.

In Santa Clara County, fentanyl deaths spiked by 863 percent between 2018 and 2021. The working group aims to combat fentanyl’s impact through a multifaceted strategy, including raising awareness of its dangers in schools and providing life-saving opioid reversal medication in the community.

“The Santa Clara County Office of Education proudly co-sponsored SB10 because we understand the necessity of equipping every secondary school with the knowledge and tools to educate our students about the prevalence of fentanyl and if necessary, save a student who is overdosing,” County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan said in a statement. “Santa Clara County schools will continue to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.”