Pride season is fast approaching and with it comes an influx of many familiar and beautiful things. Banners and flags pop up in shops and homes, local queens promote pride-themed numbers and outfits, baby gays fresh from the closet drench themselves in rainbow everything, while veteran queers remember the struggles of times gone by and the battle for equality. However, as the community at-large prepares to celebrate, a silent and exceptionally lethal beast has reared its head. Fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than heroin, has begun to appear in West Hollywood and the potency of this drug has the city council and community members concerned.
At the April 4 regular WeHo City Council meeting, community member and activist Jerome Kitchen spoke during public comment about the danger facing those visiting West Hollywood to celebrate pride season. “I want to talk to the council today to see if the council is working with the sheriff department and other officials here in West Hollywood to ensure that every tourist that travels to your city for pride leaves your city alive,” Kitchen said.
Kitchen, who has been vocal about the deaths of two men in the apartment of a major Democratic donor, Ed Buck, said he feared for the lives of people of color coming into the city and hoped that the city council would take his pleas to heart.
“This city is going to be filled with tourists and I want you guys to take it serious because I don’t want another dead body in West Hollywood, specially another dead young man.”
In an attempt to protect the public, the West Hollywood City Council voted unanimously Monday to allocate $20,000 in funds for the use of fentanyl testing strips in preparation for the coming pride season. The city of West Hollywood will give $5,000 and $1500 to the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and AIDS Project Los Angeles, APLA, respectively.
The decision to provide funding for the strips comes as the community faces an increase in opioid-related deaths and emergencies over the past year.
Council Member and former mayor John Duran posted on his Facebook timeline about the council’s decision to provide funding to the organizations.
“The smallest amounts of fentanyl can be deadly. But users do not know that their drugs are laced with it. So, there are fentanyl testing strips that can be used to determine if the cocaine or meth has any fentanyl in it. And the casual user or addict can avoid those drugs that are laced with fentanyl.”
Council Member Duran spoke of the reality of casual drug use in the post. He wrote that he is not advocating for drug use but attempting to save the lives of casual users who may not be as aware of the potential threat lurking in their product.
“Do I wish people would give up drugs? If someone is an addict – yes. Because I have witnessed the devastating consequences with long term use,” he said. “With the casual user – not as pressing. But bottom line is that I don’t want either category to have friends at a funeral wondering why.”
According to Mike Rizzo, Manager of addiction and recovery services, after the accidental death of a colleague last year, the center purchased and began distributing 9,000 fentanyl testing strips.
“It was right before pride season and I got really scared. Really scared because there are a number of people that are casual users not addicts that may use a substance and as our CEO said just because someone chooses to party doesn’t mean they should lose their life.”
Rizzo added that at the beginning of the year the center purchased an additional 20,000 strips and are planning to aggressively outreach to the queer community throughout pride season.
Despite their plans, there are still situations in WeHo that require immediate and knowledgeable action.
According to Captain Ed Ramirez of the West Hollywood Sheriff Station, “should an overdose occur in the city of West Hollywood all deputy personal are trained in the administration of Narcan and every deputy and deputy sergeant has numerous doses in their vehicles.”
This is important to note, because the dose for of Narcan for a Fentanyl OD is double the amount of that for a heroin OD. Oftentimes, a person using may not be aware that their product is laced with the powerful opioid and that is where the danger lies.
Ramirez added that since the implementation of the station’s overdose rollout team deputies have responded to nine overdose calls, with two suspected of being opioid related.