Portantino Introduces Bill to Help with Youth Opioid Epidemic

Senator Anthony Portantino (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Senate Bill 997 was introduced by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank), which helps tackle the opioid epidemic and drug-related overdoses among our youth by allowing students to carry fentanyl test strips and schools to provide Narcan nasal spray to students. The bill idea came out of the Senator’s summer internship program, where each intern in the Senate office has the opportunity to research subject areas and propose bill ideas directly to Senator Portantino.

“SB 997 implements more preventative measures to help avoid opioid-related deaths in high schools,” stated Senator Portantino. “Providing fentanyl test strips and allowing kids to carry Narcan nasal spray – both of which are easy to administer – will save lives.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, in 2022, there were over 7,000 opioid-related deaths, with fentanyl poisoning accounting for approximately 88% of deaths. Among young people ages, fentanyl poisoning accounted for 640 out of 807 deaths by opioid overdose.

SB 997 would permit students in middle and high schools to carry a federally approved naloxone hydrochloride nasal spray. The bill would also require public middle schools and high schools to provide fentanyl test strips and to notify students about its presence and location.

“Although Narcan can swiftly counteract the effects of opioid overdoses, we can also take a different approach that eliminates the need for Narcan altogether,” Libby Paquette, a former intern in Senator Portantino’s office who presented the bill idea. “Recognizing that kids still use drugs despite the high number of Fentanyl overdoses, the logic behind providing test strips is to present the opportunity to avoid drugs contaminated with Fentanyl entirely. I believe test strips will help save lives when Narcan isn’t available.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is nearly impossible to tell if drugs have been laced with fentanyl unless you test your drugs with fentanyl test strips, which typically give results within 5 minutes. Furthermore, the use of Narcan (Naloxone), which is a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, is safe and easy to use and works almost immediately. It is now available over the counter, without a prescription at pharmacies, convenience stores, grocery stores and gas stations, as well as online.

“Protecting our youth in the midst of an opioid crisis should be a top priority for all Californians,” stated Tara Gamboa-Eastman, Director of Government Affairs for the Steinberg Institute. “We need to make sure all tools in the toolkit are available to prevent needless deaths. Passing this bill saves lives and puts our kids first at a time when they desperately need our support.”