More than 250 Marin County activists, health officials, addiction counselors and people in recovery have joined forces to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths next year, particularly deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“Our first step is stop the bleed, to flatten the curve,” Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer, said at the “overdose prevention summit” on Tuesday in San Rafael. “We had a communitywide response to COVID-19 — we need to do the same thing to address overdoses.”

One of the organizations leading the effort, RxSafeMarin, has changed its name to ODFreeMarin to signify the shift in focus from prescription drug abuse to fentanyl overdoses.

“Prescription drugs are no longer the leading cause of overdoses in Marin,” said Marin County Supervisor Katie Rice, who appeared on screen at the summit. The event attracted 257 registrants, organizers said.

Of 65 fatal overdoses last year in Marin, 57% involved fentanyl, which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, Willis said. He said that while the numbers are still pending for 2022, overdose deaths this year appear to be matching or exceeding those last year.

In 2018, before the proliferation of fentanyl, Marin’s overdose deaths were about half the number they are now, according to data Willis presented at the event.

Since about 2018, fentanyl has been increasingly added by illicit drug manufacturers to all sorts of fake pills and marketed on social media to young people and adults as prescription drugs such as Percocet or Xanax.

“If you were younger than 60, you had a 10 times greater chance of dying from a drug overdose in 2021 than from COVID-19,” Willis said.

One such fake pill can kill within a few minutes unless the person receives a dose of Narcan or nalaxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug.

“Don’t think it can’t happen to you,” said Marin activist Michelle Leopold, whose son Trevor died in 2019 at age 18 from a fentanyl overdose. “You need to assume it can happen to you.”

Colyn Heimerman, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer who is helping in the countywide effort, said ODFreeMarin is offering a free Narcan distribution and education event next month. The event will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Marin County Farmers Market at 3501 Civic Center Drive in San Rafael.

Jessica Mendieta, co-chair of the ODFreeMarin “youth action” team, said her group plans to step up its efforts to send more “caring cards” to people who are in recovery after being discharged from mental health or drug treatment centers. An estimated 1,000 cards have already been sent since the program started a year or two ago, Mendieta said.

Next year, the cards, which are handwritten by high school students with messages of hope and support, will feature copies of artwork by Marin youths to portray emotions and challenges.

“One of our goals, from January to May, is to help promote and sponsor the Marin County Mental Health Youth Art and Film Showcase,” said Mendieta, 16, a junior at Novato High School. She said the group plans to distribute Narcan at the event.

The youth team is also promoting a new Marin-specific crisis text line. It is accessible by texting “Marin” to 741741, Mendieta said.

More information on participating in the youth team is available by emailing The ODFreeMarin website is