In September 2023, students from Coachella Valley HS Health Academy (CVHS) and their Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter brainstormed their next community awareness project. There are plenty of causes and needs in the world, but the fentanyl crisis stood out as the main contender of issues that needed attention.

CVHS Health Academy students Xmelia Pasillas, Isaiah Martinez, Brianda Paz, Victoria Mendoza and Gilberto Castillo

Already in conversations with Eisenhower Health to increase work-based learning opportunities for students, CVHS students connected with family medicine doctor Ashraf Zadshir, MD. Dr. Zadshir not only endorsed the idea to produce a fentanyl awareness event in collaboration with the students, but also garnered support from hospital leadership and the Family Medicine Residency program to host the event at the Annenberg Center of Health Sciences Center at Eisenhower.

Over the period of five months, the students worked with UCR School of Medicine resident physicians to research data related to the fentanyl crisis. They scheduled a series of speakers to present at the newly named “Fentanyl Town Hall” and invited all desert high school health academy students to attend.

The Fentanyl Town Hall was hosted on March 7, 2024, with just over 200 attendees. There were four presentations by physicians affiliated with Eisenhower Health Emergency Department, psychiatry services, addiction treatment and even some representatives from law enforcement and social services. The evening was capped by a panel discussion.

2023-24 CVHS HOSA Chapter President Julissa Aceves speaks to KESQ News Channel 3.

With so much awareness and news coverage, it seemed that the fentanyl crisis would eventually fade, yet the problem has significantly increased across the U.S. and throughout the world. The information learned from the Fentanyl Town Hall will be used to drive more extensive research and management of the crisis. Critical lessons learned include that synthetic fentanyl can be mixed in any drug, increasing potency and toxicity, which has been the leading cause of increased mortality. 

The model from this inaugural town hall is evolving into more opportunities for work-based learning, street medicine with resident physicians, and development of educational topics Eisenhower Health can host once or twice a year.

CVHS Health Academy and Eisenhower Health share something in common: community health. Dr. Zadshir has been increasingly enthusiastic about the partnership with students and instrumental in extending the possibilities of work-based learning she sees in a captive audience who will one day be our next health care providers. 

Invaluable partnerships such as these help keep motivated students on the right path through high school, college and into the workforce right back here in our community.

Simon Moore is the Coachella Valley High School Health Academy Coordinator and a HOSA Advisor and can be reached at [email protected].

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