The message was clear and succinct.

Merced County, just like the rest of the state, is dealing with a fentanyl crisis, and county leaders are going to attack the crisis head-on.

At a news conference last Friday morning that lasted just 17 minutes, the county’s educational and law enforcement leaders have pledged to combat the crisis with both education and enforcement.

Steve Tietjen, the Merced County Superintendent of Schools, announced the new awareness campaign, “One Pill Will Kill,” along with Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke and District Attorney Nicole Silveira.

In his address, Sheriff Warnke said that he also wears the title of Coroner, so he sees first-hand the fatal aftermath of fentanyl.

“This fentanyl crisis is alarming, it is insidious,” Warnke explained.  “It’s time to tackle this head-on and stop this threat.”

Silveira called the situation “a health crisis” in the county, noting that in a two-year period from 2021 to 2022, there were a total of 44 fentanyl-related deaths.

“The bad thing is the fentanyl is masquerading as another type of drug, like Xanex,” she explained.

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has emerged as a risk to individuals of all ages, especially in school communities. The “One Pill Will Kill” campaign aims to empower students, parents, educators and the community with the knowledge and tools needed to recognize and prevent fentanyl-related risks.

Silveira said that the program is utilizing asset forfeiture monies to pay for billboards and commercials to bring more awareness to the extreme dangers of fentanyl.  The first billboard recently went up in the community of Winton while others throughout the entire county are also planned.

The campaign also includes a 30-second commercial which will be run on local television stations. It features Silveira, Tietjen and Warnke, as well as California State Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, Merced City School District Board President Allen Brooks and Merced County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Raymond Framstad.  Silveira also said that there will be assemblies at schools to talk to students about the dangers of fentanyl.

The final part of the program will be a contest that asks middle and high school students in Merced County to create and submit a commercial that emphasizes the dangers associated with fentanyl for a chance to earn $5,000 for their school site’s anti-drug and anti-gang program. MCOE’s video production team, METV. will work with the winners to professionally produce their commercial, which will also air on local TV stations, according to MCOE’s communications director, Nathan Quevedo.

Sheriff Warnke also said that he has received a strong commitment from DA Silveira to aggressively prosecute fentanyl drug dealers.

“We got strong support from the district attorney, so I told my guys ‘the gloves are off, let’s go after them,’” he said.  “We’re going to catch them and she is going to clean them.”

For schools interested in entering a commercial, entries are due October 13th. For more information about the campaign, go to

David Borboa