At least seven Los Angeles teenagers have overdosed on pills likely laced with fentanyl over the past month, including a 15-year-old girl who died on a high school campus, authorities said.
The most recent overdose occurred Saturday, and Los Angeles police were investigating whether those pills are related to the Sept. 13 fatal overdose of Melanie Ramos in a restroom at Bernstein High School in Hollywood.
Police last week arrested two boys, ages 15 and 16, in connection with her death and other drug sales in the area. The younger boy was held on suspicion of manslaughter, police said.
The suspects knew each other, authorities said, and both attend Apex Academy, an independent charter school that shares a campus with Bernstein.
The drugs were being sold on campus and at a nearby park, Moore said.
However, the teens were “simply pawns that are being used by adults and by drug trade organizations,” and authorities were trying to find the supplier, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the city Police Commission on Tuesday.
Ramos’ family had reported her missing after she failed to return home from school.
She and a classmate bought a pill that contained fentanyl from another youth, believing it was the prescription painkiller Percocet, then took the drug on campus and lost consciousness, Moore said.
The school was open that night for soccer and volleyball games, authorities said.
At about 8 p.m., Ramos’s classmate later awoke and found her friend unresponsive, went outside to a school courtyard and encountered her own stepfather, who had been looking for her, the chief said.
The Fire Department pronounced Ramos dead at the scene.
Earlier that day, paramedics had responded to separate calls reporting possible overdoses of two teens in the area of Lexington Park, less than a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) from Bernstein High and a cluster of other schools. The teens are believed to have been students at the schools.
In addition to Ramos and her friend, Moore said five additional overdose victims were found over the past month but all survived.
One of them, a 15-year-old student who attends one of three schools located on the Bernstein campus, was found unconscious by his mother on Saturday at their Hollywood home and was taken to the hospital, police told The Los Angeles Times.
The student reportedly took a quarter of a pill that he believed to be Percocet. Police were looking into whether it was laced with fentanyl.
Law enforcement officials nationwide have for months warned about the dangers of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s frequently mixed into illicit pills made to look like prescription painkillers or other medicines.
Moore called the drug “the number one threat to the country” and said LAPD and drug task force investigators have seized “tens of thousands of pills and pounds and pounds of fentanyl.”
“The seizures are ongoing, frequent and persistent and the ready supply of this is resulting in overdoses and deaths,” he said.