At least seven teenagers, including the 15-year-old Bernstein High School girl who died last week, have overdosed in the past month from pills possibly containing fentanyl, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The latest overdose occurred Saturday morning, when a 15-year-old student from STEM Academy of Hollywood, one of three schools located on the Bernstein campus, was found unconscious by his mother in their Hollywood residence, said LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
Police said they are investigating whether the most recent overdose was connected to the drugs that killed 15-year-old Melanie Ramos, a student at Bernstein High School, on Sept. 13.
Officers responded to a report of a hospitalization of a minor and discovered that the boy ingested a quarter of a pill that he believed to be Percocet but that police said possibly contained fentanyl, Moore said. The boy was treated Saturday at a hospital for an overdose and is expected to survive, police said.
Moore confirmed that the 10 pills that police took into custody last week during the arrest of a 15-year-old boy on suspicion of manslaughter tested positive for fentanyl. He described them as “crude blue M30 pills” believed to be counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and are produced by illicit labs as a substitute for Percocet.
Two high school boys, both students at Apex Academy, were arrested Thursday, including the 15-year-old who allegedly sold the fentanyl-laced pill that led to the overdose death of Melanie. Apex Academy is an independent charter school that is also located on the Bernstein campus.
Melanie and her 15-year-old friend both overdosed last week at the Hollywood school, police said. Melanie was found unconscious in the girl’s bathroom and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. Her friend overdosed and was hospitalized.
A 16-year-old boy was also arrested on his way to school last week and booked on suspicion of narcotics sales for allegedly selling pills to a Hollywood High School boy at Lexington Park, located a few blocks from Bernstein High, Moore said. Police didn’t identify the boys because they are juveniles.
Police said there was a fourth person, also likely a student, who overdosed at the park last week, but her identity is not known, because she left the park after being treated before police could interview her.
“It speaks to the impurities of street narcotics,” Moore said. “Fentanyl is a very dangerous drug, and this dosage can range from being a painkiller to a depressant to death.”
Moore said L.A. Unified School District officials were notified about the latest student overdose sometime over the weekend. The school district deferred to LAPD for updated details on the investigation.
L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho said last week that at least six LAUSD students, including three from Sept. 13, have been involved in the use of narcotics, “some resulting in overdose, some resulting in students being transported to a medical facility, some being immediately released to the parents.”
Moore said the exact number of students who ingested the pills is unknown because police believe that others took the drug, survived and may not have sought medical attention.
“This is not an exact science — we’re just reporting what comes up with hospitalizations,” he said. “It’s possible that others were impacted by these illicit street drugs and we’re just unaware of them.”
Melanie’s family has called for those responsible for distributing the drugs to Melanie to be held accountable and for enhanced security measures at the schools, especially during after-school activities.
“I’m angry that these kids had got ahold of these pills and decided to distribute them at school knowing what this can do to somebody. … There’s somebody connected to them and somebody who hired them,” said Gladys Manriques, a family member who spoke on their behalf.
“We want [the district] to take us into consideration. Don’t leave us just reading whatever we see on the news,” she said. “I think we deserve to be informed. I think they can do better on that. We have a million questions that haven’t been answered.”
Moore said the department’s high-intensity drug task force has been assigned to investigate the case and that it is hopeful that other victims of the overdoses will come forward and cooperate with law enforcement.
“We’re not pursuing any type of charge against the people who’ve taken illicit drugs and are suffering from their effects,” he said. “We want to identify the purveyor. If there’s a student, then there’s an adult and a drug trade organization that’s engaged in the marketing and distribution.”
Moore urged anyone with more information to contact Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS to report crimes anonymously.