Fentanyl awareness speakers warn against dangers

Former DEA agent Rocky Herron and local mother Laura Brinker-White spoke at a fentanyl awareness event on Jan. 18 in the TPHS Performing Arts Center.

NBC 7 covered the event, giving the speakers live coverage.

Since May 2021, Brinker-White has worked to become an advocate for drug awareness in and around the TPHS community after her son, Connor, died from an accidental fentanyl overdose at age 17.

“I know I can’t change anything really at a state or federal level, but I’m trying to start in Carmel Valley, especially because this is where my family and my children have grown up,” Brinker-White said.

Herron, on the other hand, has tackled the nationwide side of the issue; his speech at TPHS is part of his program “I Choose My Future” that he has delivered to students 12 to 18 years old in 16 countries.

“Many [young people] still choose to use drugs that could kill them or change their lives forever. I’m tired of waiting for people to break themselves before we help them,” Herron said. “So I came up with my program called ‘I Choose My Future.’ I’ve now delivered [it] 1,100 times to … 250,000 people, and I’m just getting started.”

Both speakers agreed that drug prevention and awareness need to be discussed in schools and at home.

“It’s just as important for all students to be open with their parents,” Brinker- White said. “Lots of people think that if you go to your parents, they’re going to shame you or lock you up, so you really need to have those conversations and build that relationship and tell your parents that you need help.”

Herron agreed, saying schools across the globe should invest in assembly-based presentations such as his.

“We as a society have not decided to educate our children,” Herron said. “I want to change the culture enough that schools make [drug education] part of what they do. This education is something that [students] should be empowered and expected to do every year, not just in high school, but also in middle schools.”

Herron has spoken at TPHS before.

At TPHS, multiple resources are available for drug awareness, including PALs Red Ribbon Week and student groups like TPHS Young Leaders in Healthcare.

“Students need to be educated about the serious risks involved in taking fentanyl, and what to do in the case that someone has mistakenly taken it or overdosed,” Vivian Butchko (12), a member of PALs, said. “Schools do not talk about this specific drug enough, and if they do, it’s very vague and does not address the severity.”

YLHC had a booth in the lobby of the PAC before the event. Partnered with Scripps Encinitas, Scripps Health and San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, YLHC is a club for students who are interested in healthcare and who want to be medical professionals in the future.

According to club member Roma Panchal (11), YLHC’s goals are to “open up the conversation to drug abuse [and] … to inform, educate and then spread that information,” much like the mission statements of Herron and Brinker-White.

“We want to expand to larger San Diego district high schools or even Poway high schools so they can help the younger generation prevent these problems in the future,” Panchal said.

Currently, Panchal and YLHC Club President Lauren Suh (11) are planning a brand-new project separate from the club, but within the same framework: Project Clean Teen.

“[Project Clean Teen] is where we are going to create a basic presentation on drug abuse, and go to elementary schools and just expand on the idea of telling younger kids that it’s okay to say no to drugs,” Panchal said.

With the new program in the works, Suh and Panchal assure that anybody interested can reach out to join and volunteer. This is in line with Brinker- White’s recommendations on Jan. 18: to be proactive and involved in one’s community, educating peers on drug prevention.

“You need to be a hero to your friends,” Brinker-White said. “It might not be you, but it could be someone else.”

Photos by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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