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OC Sheriff hosts inaugural fentanyl forum to educate, empower  

Sheriff Barnes speaks at the inaugural Fighting Fentanyl Together Forum

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Nov. 4 hosted the first countywide effort to rally the community in the fight against fentanyl.  

More than 500 people attended the Fighting Fentanyl Together Forum at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy, which featured law enforcement, clinicians and educators sharing information on topics spanning from statistics and trends to the biology of addiction to prevention strategies.

Turning first to education to emphasize the impact fentanyl has on the community, Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes talked about the danger of counterfeit pills and the epidemic among youth using social media to experiment with narcotics.

“Our kids are unknowingly playing Russian roulette when they take these pills,” he said. “This is not specific to age, gender, socioeconomic status or race – it impacts everyone equally.”

Sgt. Brian Gunsolley, who leads the Sheriff’s Department drug education and prevention efforts, added the importance of building a culture of cooperation to address the fentanyl epidemic from all sides – education, prevention and enforcement.

“We need to think about what things we can put in place now to make sure our grandchildren are safe,” he said. “We need to consider long-term management and collaborative solutions so that we can prevent young people from going down that path.”

Part of the education component included helping the community better understand addiction, youth decision-making and brain development. Marshall Moncrief, CEO of Be Well OC, and Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman from the UCI Center for Psychology and Law shared the science behind these concepts to cultivate empathy and drive effective action.  

“The brain disease of addiction is complex and we need to understand that, and respect that,” Moncrief said. “If we’re going to make a difference, we need to do it together.”

Added Dr. Cauffman: “What you do matters. What you say matters. Kids are different and we need to take an approach that fits them in that developmentally appropriate way.”

Balancing the devastating realities of the fentanyl epidemic with hope for the future remained a focal point of the forum. Sharing personal stories of both loss and redemption painted a picture of the impact on local families.  

Dr. Veronica Kelley, Chief of Mental Health and Recovery Services for the Orange County Health Care Agency, shared her personal experience with her daughter, whom she almost lost to addiction and accidental fentanyl poisoning. Her candid presentation highlighted the stress and difficulty of navigating addition and the relief and joy that came when her daughter received the help she needed to live a healthy life.    

“Fentanyl kills. It kills those who are not addicted and it kills those with substance abuse, but recovery does happen,” she said. “When it comes to substance use and misuse or substance abuse, it takes all of us to make an impact.”

Bolstering education with resources and remaining collaborative is what the forum speakers say will help Orange County effectively address the fentanyl epidemic.

“There is a point in life that we can pivot and implement positive change,” Sheriff Barnes said. “I’d love for that to be on a national level, but it can start here at ground zero in our own community. We can give our children the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.”

Hon. Maria Hernandez, Assistant Presiding Judge of the Orange County Superior Court, closed the forum by calling on the audience to take the lessons learned and insight gained to be repeated and shared.  

“You are a solution,” she told the audience. “If you don’t go back and talk to the people you live with, work with, and teach then this is all for nothing.

“You have the ability to take your voice and make an impact.”


OC Sheriff: Dangers of Fentanyl

Be Well OC

Drug Enforcement Administration

County of Orange, Health Care Agency, Mental Health and Recovery Services

UCI Center of Psychology and Law

Alexander Neville Foundation

Partners for Wellness

The Solace Foundation of Orange County