Fentanyl pills
Bags of fentanyl pills. Courtesy Drug Enforcement Administration

A Riverside special needs school employee accused of supplying fentanyl to students, causing at least one to suffer a medical emergency, was charged Friday with nearly a dozen felony offenses, while her husband was charged with possessing a gun and drugs.

Melissa Harloam Garrison, 46, and David Wayne Garrison, 58, were arrested Tuesday night following an investigation by the Riverside Police Department’s Narcotics Unit.

She is charged with three counts each of child endangerment and furnishing controlled substances to a minor, along with dealing in controlled substances, possession of controlled substances while armed, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, being a felon in possession of ammunition and a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation.

Her husband is charged with possession of controlled substances while armed, illegal possession of a gun and being a convicted domestic abuser in possession of a firearm.

Melissa Garrison is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, where David Garrison is also jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail.

According to Officer Ryan Railsback, spokesman for the Riverside Police Department, officers were called to the Bright Futures Academy in the 9000 block of County Farm Road on Tuesday afternoon to investigate reports of an employee selling fentanyl to students at the K-12 campus, which the California Department of Education says is geared to children with behavioral disorders.

Railsback said that while questioning witnesses, officers learned a “student had recently overdosed on suspected fentanyl the week prior at their home in another city.”

The youth, whose identity was not released, survived.

Narcotics detectives, with assistance from the police department’s Sexual Assault-Child Abuse unit, initiated an investigation that revealed Melissa Garrison, a bus driver and security guard at the campus, had been supplying undisclosed quantities of the synthetic opioid to the children, Railsback said.

According to the criminal complaint, Garrison recruited two students — a female identified in court documents only as “M.D.” and a male identified only as “J.G.” — to help peddle the drug over an unspecified period of time.

The defendants reside on the campus in a cottage, Railsback said.

The premises were searched and “over 100 suspected fentanyl pills, two handguns and various types of ammunition” were seized, the police spokesman alleged.

According to court documents, Melissa Garrison has a prior felony conviction in another jurisdiction, but the offense wasn’t specified, while David Garrison was convicted of the domestic abuse charge in 2012.

Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, including in China, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it’s smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. It’s known to be 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said there were about 500 fentanyl-induced deaths countywide last year, which represents a 250-fold increase from 2016, when only two such fatalities were documented.

According to statistics recently published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 108,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, and fentanyl accounted for over 80,000 of them.

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