Jan 27, 2023 - News

The fight against fentanyl at school

Pills scattered on a yellow surface.

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images.

Two suspected fentanyl overdoses among teenagers this month have Montgomery County school officials pushing back with an outreach to parents.

Why it matters: Youth fentanyl overdoses increased by 78% in 2022, county officials say, including both fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

  • Last year, 11 young people in Montgomery County died of an overdose compared to five in 2021.

Driving the news: A 15-year-old public school student died this month of a suspected overdose, and just this week, a student at a Wheaton high school who suffered a suspected fentanyl overdose while at school was revived with naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.

What’s happening: Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery Goes Purple, a substance use and overdose awareness campaign, will have a family forum on Saturday morning at Clarksburg High School about the risks of fentanyl. It will include training on how to administer naloxone, and naloxone kits will be distributed.

County officials told reporters this week that naloxone is available in the nurse’s office at all public schools and staff are trained on how to use it. They are considering increasing the number of people who carry it and putting naloxone in locations where defibrillators are placed throughout the school.

  • All county fire stations also have free naloxone kits, which officials tell Axios that minors can access.

Officials say young people are likely to be using drugs they perceive to be prescription painkillers, like oxycodone.

Zoom out: Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, is a growing threat nationwide, flooding the illegal drug market and being laced into other drugs.

What they’re saying: An increasing number of clients are coming to Children’s National Hospital's addiction program for opioid use, as more young people seek treatment, says Siva Kaliamurthy, a psychiatrist at the hospital.

  • “When we look at the national data, substance use trends in adolescents have stayed the same or decreased compared to the past years, but overdose rates have increased. This is likely due to contamination with illicitly manufactured fentanyl,” Kaliamurthy says.
  • He urges families to start conversations about substance use early with children and to avoid punishment and yelling. Maryland parents have access to a free online resource that guides them on how to have these conversations.

Of note: Maryland has a Good Samaritan law that protects people from legal trouble if they administer naloxone or try to help someone who has overdosed.

Saturday’s forum at Clarksburg High School is from 9:30am-11:30am.

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