Students unaware of fentanyl in counterfeit drugs are at risk of death as illicit opioid availability increases
On Jan. 19, community members gathered to discuss the county's approach to the rampant spread of fentanyl laced drugs near schools. This follows the overdose-induced death of a 15-year-old MCPS student this weekend.
The conference aimed to spread awareness about the dangers of substance abuse, and "inspire action and advocacy" by identifying specific steps county organizations plan to take in order to prevent overdose cases in the future.
Between 2021 and 2022, there has been an alarming 120 percent increase in fatal youth overdoses. Several more have occured in the past few months alone. This growth of opioid related deaths is specifically due to Fentanyl, a highly lethal synthetic opioid about 100 times more potent than morphine.
Youth overdose cases are often the result of mistakenly ingesting counterfeit pills or drugs, including Xanax, Adderall and Percocet that are contaminated with Fentanyl. Most of these overdoses occur in residences, though there have been cases of students overdosing on school grounds.
MCPS School System Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Kapunan expressed the need for comprehensive solutions. "We must not just recognize the problem. We must also act to prevent it, to destigmatize and create conditions in which all individuals can seek support for sustained recovery," Kapunan said. One of the solutions officials highlighted is increasing awareness of and access to the emergency life-saving medication Naloxone (Narcan) in the case of an overdose.
The Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) sends officers to investigate every overdose report in the county, and are focused on gaining intelligence on supply sources. The police also bring federal charges when appropriate.
Police Chief Marcus Jones emphasized that the police force is not motivated by an interest in prosecution, but by a desire to safeguard the county's children. "Our mission is to work with this community to prevent opioids from getting into the hands of our kids," Jones said. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy echoed this sentiment. "I can't bring these young people back. A life is far more important than a criminal prosecution. It's far more important than locking someone up," McCarthy said.
As a result, the department is also determined to "provide information and resources to parents and families to help save lives." The Community Opioid Prevention Education (COPE) Trailer is one of the newest tools employees and volunteers can use to educate community members about drug use. According to the MCPD, the trailer "is designed to go to public events, so the community can go inside and see the warning signs of drug abuse."
Jones and McCarthy both stated that Montgomery County executive Marc Elrich is also committed to addressing this issue through health and human services.
Superintendent of schools Monifa McKnight stressed the communal responsibility of safeguarding Montgomery County students. "The best gift we can give to our students is to pay attention," McKnight said.
Adults creating safe spaces for children to discuss their mental health challenges and give them the help they need is critical to prevent unwittingly using a fake pill. "They end up costing themselves serious health issues, in some cases, death. That's unintentional. Our students cannot be in those situations."
A member of Surviving Our Ultimate Crisis (SOUL), Elena Suarez, who lost her daughter to an accidental fentanyl overdose two years ago described the importance of community support as well, and spoke to the need of involuntary treatment options for youth suffering from acute substance use disorder.
"Behind every addict, there's a personal story. Nobody wants to suffer from this disease. But it happens. Mental health disorders, peer pressure, trauma… what we need is compassion," Suarez said.
Please visit this link to access resources for you or your loved ones who may be struggling with substance use, and information on the dangers of fentanyl and how it has impacted Montgomery County.
The full press conference can be viewed here.
Maya Britto. Hey, I'm Maya (she/her) and this year, I am co-Editor-in-chief of SCO! I'm passionate about social justice, music, dance, food, quality time with my friends, ice cream (but strictly vanilla), and good bad jokes. Stay cool, y'all. :) More »