The City of West Hollywood will host a free virtual panel discussion on the methamphetamine and fentanyl epidemic featuring panelists that bring together diverse perspectives including medical and substance abuse professionals, and an acclaimed author and reporter on this issue.
The free virtual panel discussion will take place on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 at 6 p.m. via the Zoom platform. RSVP is requested in advance at the Zoom link posted in the City of West Hollywood’s website calendar event listing at www.weho.org/calendar. A link to the Zoom webinar will be emailed to participants who are registered prior to the event. The forum will also be livestreamed on the City’s WeHoTV YouTube channel.
“This conversation is intended to increase community awareness on the dangers of these drugs, the impacts to the community, and the resources that are available,” said City of West Hollywood Councilmember Lauren Meister. “This issue knows no border and it’s affecting all of our cities big and small across the country.”
The panel discussion will be co-moderated by City of West Hollywood Councilmember Lauren Meister and by City of Beverly Hills Councilmember Sharona R. Nazarian, PsyD. The panelists will include:
- Bruce Boardman – Boardman is the Chief Executive Officer for Social Model Recovery Systems (SMRS), a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health services at 10 locations in Los Angeles County for those whose lives have become unmanageable due to alcohol and other drug use and/or whose mental health issues are interfering with leading productive lives. He has served at SMRS for more than 30 years and is recognized as a pioneer in the field of co-occurring disorders treatment.
- Dr. Itai Danovitch, MD, MBA – Danovitch is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His clinical practice and research focus on substance use disorders, as well as the integration of medical and mental health services. He is the author of more than 80 articles and book chapters, and co-editor of two books on substance use disorders. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and past president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine.
- Sam Quinones – Quinones is a journalist, storyteller, former Los Angeles Times reporter, and author of four books of narrative nonfiction. As a reporter, he covered issues surrounding immigration, drug trafficking, and gangs. His most recent book is The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, was released in 2021 and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award for Best Nonfiction Book. The book follows his 2015 release, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
- Dr. Gary Tsai, MD – Tsai is the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control division. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing a full spectrum of substance use prevention, harm reduction, and treatment services for the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. He also serves on the Board of Directors of National Alliance on Mental Illness California and is board certified in both general psychiatry and addiction medicine.
Methamphetamine and fentanyl overdoses continue to be a significant and growing public health problem that impacts people across the socio-economic spectrum and across races and ethnicities in Los Angeles County and across the United States. The total number of people in LA County who died due to accidental drug overdose in 2021 was 2,741, and approximately 715 of these people were experiencing homelessness. Methamphetamine and/or fentanyl were involved in approximately half of the total accidental overdose cases in LA County and approximately 75% of accidental overdose cases were among people experiencing homelessness. Accidental overdose is a preventable cause of death, but such overdoses are disproportionately concentrated among the most vulnerable community members in LA County.
Methamphetamine is an addictive synthetic stimulant that can cause considerable health effects that can sometimes result in death. Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally and is often used with other substances. According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019. In 2020, more than 2.5 million people in the United States aged 12 years or older reported methamphetamine use in the past year.
Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid that has been found in substances such as methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, and other drugs. It is especially dangerous because people are often unaware that fentanyl is in the drugs they are using. The high potency of fentanyl (as high as 50 to 100 times the potency of morphine) greatly increases the risk of overdose. Fentanyl has quickly become the deadliest drug in the nation according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that two-thirds of the 107,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2021 were attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
The City of West Hollywood contracts with several agencies to provide programming and services for people with substance use disorders:
- Being Alive operates a weekly Syringe Services Program in the City of West Hollywood where individuals can exchange used syringes and receive free HIV testing. Community members can also receive fentanyl test strips, wound care kits, safer smoking supplies, and other harm reduction materials.
- Healthcare in Action provides mobile medical crisis response services and offers unhoused community members medical, mental health, and substance use treatment services.
- The Los Angeles LGBT Center offers outpatient treatment, group support, and harm reduction programming. The Center’s Methology program is specifically targeted to those who are ready to reduce the harm caused by crystal methamphetamine.
- Friends Research Institute provides free outpatient substance abuse treatment and harm reduction programming for gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men who use methamphetamine. The program combines group counseling with contingency management and gives incentives for submitting urine samples that show no recent use of methamphetamine.
- Tarzana Treatment Center and Awakening Recovery provides residential treatment for substance use recovery and sober living.
In addition to the City of West Hollywood’s work with contracted agencies, the City has taken steps to educate and raise awareness of the methamphetamine and fentanyl epidemic in the community. The City has hosted a series of community forums on methamphetamine use, including one as early as 2014 that focused on the effects of crystal methamphetamine and GHB. In 2017, the City launched a campaign with contracted providers to educate the public on the dangers of crystal methamphetamine use, prevention, and available treatment programs. In 2019, the City began partnering with its contracted and collaborative agency partners to distribute fentanyl test strips to the community. In 2022, more than 10,000 fentanyl test strips were distributed during Pride weekend and more than 5,000 were distributed during the December holidays, leading up to New Year’s Eve. The City continues to support its agency partners by providing them with free fentanyl test strips for outreach, events, and to have available for community members in lobbies and common areas.