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Teen girl dead from fentanyl-laced pills at Hollywood school is latest in rash of student overdoses

Students make their way to Helen Bernstein School in Los Angeles
Students make their way to Los Angeles’ Helen Bernstein School, where a 15-year-old girl was found dead after an apparent fentanyl overdose.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A teenage girl who died Tuesday night from an apparent fentanyl overdose at Bernstein High School in Hollywood and three other students who were hospitalized were the latest in a rash of student overdoses stemming from drugs being sold at a nearby park, according to officials.

Six students, not including the four from Tuesday night, have overdosed in the last three weeks from drugs obtained at Lexington Park, located just a few blocks from Bernstein, according to Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Alberto Carvalho.

Carvalho met with the parents of the deceased girl Wednesday morning and confirmed that two of the four girls who overdosed, including the one who died, are 15-year-olds from Bernstein. The third girl was a 17-year-old from Hollywood High School and Carvalho didn’t have information on the fourth victim.

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“What happens in parks, in the streets of our community, often has a direct or indirect impact or consequence in our schools. And in the worst of possible ways,” Carvalho said. “We saw that happening last night.”

Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs (including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine) to increase potency, but it can be deadly. Test kits can help.

The string of overdoses has stemmed from one person who has been distributing drugs at the park, which has since been closed, according to Carvalho, who added that police are “fairly close” to identifying the individual.

At about 9 p.m. Tuesday Los Angeles Police Department officers responded to a possible overdose at the school, located in the 1300 block of North Wilton Place, according to a police news release.

A girl, who was suffering from a possible overdose, told her stepfather that her friend was in the girls’ bathroom, police said. The parent and a school employee found an unresponsive student inside the bathroom and attempted live-saving measures.

The Los Angeles Fire Department arrived and pronounced the girl dead at the scene. The other student was taken to a local hospital in stable condition.

Police said they believe the girls bought what they thought were Percocet pills at Lexington Park and confirmed that two other students were found suffering from possible overdoses in the area of the park, located in the 5500 block of Lexington Avenue.

The findings underscore the fact that teens face serious danger from the kinds of drugs circulating in the U.S., including fentanyl.

“School will be open today and we will have grief counselors on-site and available to support all students and employees,” school officials said in a statement. “As we work together with LAPD to uncover the details of this tragic situation, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of both students.”

The deceased girl’s name hasn’t been released pending notification of her family. Students at Bernstein said that multiple students have overdosed in the first two weeks of school, including a boy who was hospitalized but survived.

“It’s very easy to acquire and get drugs in high schools in general,” said Natalia Ruiz, 14, a ninth-grader at the school. “Some kid might take it just like that and something bad could easily just happen — another overdose.”

A 13-year-old student who allegedly brought fentanyl pills to campus was taken into custody after a school employee was exposed to them.

Chey Payne, also a ninth-grader, said drugs have always been a problem in middle school, but since coming to high school, overdoses have been more frequent.

“I know people don’t take it seriously and think it’s cool to do that stuff,” she said, “but it really could affect your family and others around you.”

Naomi Corado, 14, said the overdoses have made her more careful about whom to trust.

“Just be careful if anyone offers you something because you never know what they put in it,” she said.

Dusty the Rapper, 40, whose 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter attend the school, said he’s never heard of overdoses happening at Bernstein before.

“I was really, really surprised that this school isn’t on security enough to let kids go places and wander off and do drugs,” he said. “I’m really surprised this happened and I’m shocked because my kids are athletes at this school, and I’m scared that they could get peer pressured into doing drugs.”

Parents whose children died of fentanyl-laced pills are demanding stricter penalties and are lobbying Silicon Valley for social media protections.

He added that he hopes the school and parents step up to make sure another overdose death doesn’t occur at the school.

“I hope we don’t just let it go and sweep it under the rug,” he said. “I hope we really address the issue and come together and figure out some kind of drug awareness program to indicate when students are using drugs or feel like they are under the influence. We need to get to them early before it leads to this.”

The LAPD is working with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in the investigation because of the ongoing nature of the drug sales, said Carvalho, who added that the district’s immediate response has been teaming with law enforcement to try to identify the perpetrators.

“One thing that must take place if, in fact, we are to break this vicious cycle of death through overdosing, is the community needs to muster up the necessary courage that will break the vow of silence, which is often induced through threat,” he said. “There are people who know far more about who’s responsible, and they don’t speak about it because of fear.”

Carvalho said there were a soccer game and volleyball game taking place Tuesday night that made it “acceptable for the students to be at the school.”

“What we’re looking into obviously is: When did the students leave the school to presumably be at the park? What time did they return? Were there other individuals involved?” he said. “And is this Bernstein’s specific problem — which we know it isn’t. Is it a Hollywood High problem? Or are there other schools equally impacted by this type of problem?”

The state and L.A. County have worked hard to make Naloxone more widely available. One of the hurdles, though, has been the price of the inhalable version, Narcan.

Police warned that it’s becoming increasingly common for drug dealers to lace pills with fentanyl — a highly addictive synthetic opioid used in medical settings to address extreme pain. The drug is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it very dangerous outside of medical settings.

Authorities have urged anyone with information on the overdose investigation to contact West Bureau Homicide investigators at (213) 382-9470.

Chey said she’s never been curious about drugs because of family history, and the recent death has made her even more apprehensive.

“I’ve never really done drugs before and this just added onto it about how I’m so scared to do that,” she said. “Especially too scared to trust anyone.”


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