Schools Are Key in Raising Awareness of Fentanyl Dangers
By Myrna Castrejón, President & CEO, California Charter Schools Association
In my decades working in the education sector, I have never seen a drug crisis as dire and as dangerous as the one we face with fentanyl. School leaders say they see fentanyl as one of the most pressing issues today. We have seen a dramatic increase in overdoses among students, with tragic, deadly results.
The students who are overdosing on this potent opioid have increased at an unprecedented pace. I am heartbroken by the stories of children who think they are taking one drug but end up overdosing because what they were given was laced with fentanyl.
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control found the rate of overdose deaths involving fentanyl spiked by 279% between 2016 and 2021. That same study found that fentanyl has the highest death rate across every racial or ethnic group and for those aged 24 and younger.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is 50 times stronger than heroin. The methods of production are also much simpler than harvested heroin Because fentanyl is cheaply made in a lab with chemicals easily found on the internet and shipped internationally. Once synthesized, fentanyl looks like any other powdered drug.
You can’t see, smell, or taste it. Dealers have produced it to resemble rainbow-colored candy, belying its deadliness.
As a result, what kids think they are getting on the street may contain fentanyl in lethal concentrations. The only way to tell if a drug is laced with fentanyl is through testing it.
It is unrealistic to think that we can stop fentanyl-related deaths altogether. However, we can reduce the chance that our loved ones fall victim to this dangerous drug through education, open communication, and community-wide awareness and care. The Legislature and Governor have taken actions to reduce the amount of fentanyl in our communities and reduce overdoses and accidental deaths, but our schools play a critical role in reaching students and making them aware of the dangers before they put their lives at risk.
To address the fentanyl crisis, schools are taking action and rising to the challenge. For example, Granada Hills Charter High School, a charter public school located in the Los Angeles Unified School District, has taken a multipronged approach, holding specific teacher trainings, a student assembly, and a town hall for parents and the surrounding community.
Public schools across California are training and receiving support and resources from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), including emergency doses of Naloxone that can help prevent an overdose death if used on time. As drug policy is crafted and debated, schools should be central to the discussion. Resources provided to bolster education and prevention programs at our schools are valuable investments in fighting the crisis.
Schools can also help parents and caregivers talk to their children about the dangers of any drugs that are purchased on the street. While there are some resources available to help parents talk to their children about the risks already, schools are taking the lead by holding events for parents and offering tools to help them talk to their children.
Talking to our kids about these sensitive topics can be intimidating. As a mom of a teenager, I know how uncomfortable conversations can be and how guardedly our children respond, especially if they feel like our questions belie a lack of trust in their judgment or curbing their independence.
I approached the topic head-on and talked to my son about fentanyl but broadened the conversation from only his personal safety. I asked him to look out for his friends and classmates. We watched the state videos and talked about effective interventions; I wanted him to see himself as part of a protective community that keeps each other safe with specific ideas on what to do and how to help, so our conversation didn’t come across as an accusation, but as a call to action and giving him agency and trust. We both felt better and more prepared after talking frankly.
Communities across the state have seen addiction and drug abuse affect too many of our families already. This new danger is making the drug crisis more lethal. Don’t let discomfort or the fact that you may not be an addiction expert be a deterrent.
You could save your own child’s or their classmates’ life.
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California Department of Education publication “Combatting Fentanyl with Actions and Resources”: https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/el/le/documents/yr22ltr1027att.pdf
California Department of Public Health video, “Fentanyl Crisis Among CA Youth (CDPH Safe Schools for All)”:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has resources that provide information on fentanyl: https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/es/index.html