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New California law will mandate high schools to teach students about the dangers of fentanyl

A new law will require California schools to teach students about the dangers of fentanyl in health classes. KPBS health reporter Heidi de Marco reports that while fentanyl-related deaths among children under 18 in San Diego County have decreased from six in 2022 to two last year, advocates emphasize that education remains crucial.

When Arianna Alvarado was 12 years old her 18-year-old childhood friend died of a fentanyl overdose.

“I was very confused at the time. I didn't even know what fentanyl really was,” Arianna said.

The tragedy deeply affected her. It also motivated her. Now 17 and a senior at Lincoln High School she is educating her peers about the dangers of fentanyl.


“Like you never know what has fentanyl in it. You never know when somebody could need their life saved,” she said.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law this month mandating California school districts, charter, and private schools with existing health classes to teach high school students about the risks associated with fentanyl. The courses will be introduced in 2026 and will be mandatory for graduation.

San Diego Assemblymember David Alvarez authored the legislation. He said the goal is to dispel misinformation and encourage informed decision-making among students.

“We certainly don't want social media or other places of misinformation to become the center of information for young people,” Alvarez said.

As a father of a middle schooler, Alvarez said he understands the challenges of discussing drugs.


“Hopefully this starts to open that door so that families can feel comfortable and also can feel that their children are receiving the right information in order to make better decisions,” he said.

Jim Crittenden who supports San Diego school districts with substance abuse prevention efforts for the San Diego County Office of Education called the new law a "tremendous" first step.

“I think it's overdue. And we do need to get that fentanyl education out there to the older kids in high school. But the true prevention efforts really need to start a little bit younger,” he said.

Arianna believes that if more kids were educated about fentanyl at a younger age, it might have saved her friend's life.

“Like she would still be here. She'd been able to graduate college, but unfortunately, like, it was too late. And fentanyl it kills just like that,” she said.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.