Fentanyl: the silent killer of Montgomery Co.

Counterfeit pills laced with Fentanyl can be difficult to distinguish from the authentic ones. These fake pills tend to be a light blue with M and 30 stampings.

Photo courtesy of partnership to end addiction

Counterfeit pills laced with Fentanyl can be difficult to distinguish from the authentic ones. These fake pills tend to be a light blue with “M” and “30” stampings.

By Julia Levi, Assistant Observations Editor

The growing epidemic of teen opioid abuse seems to be relentless and never ending. Within the past few months fentanyl has been rapidly circulating throughout MCPS, with 70% of overdoses in the county being related to fentanyl. Students have gotten access to fentanyl through counterfeit pharmaceutical pills laced with the drug. Ingestion of these pills, even in small doses, can result in death.

According to the Montgomery County Police, there were 11 fatal overdoses in 2022, compared to the five in 2021. This number continues to escalate, as these synthetic fentanyl-laced pills spread. Many unwary and careless students may not realize just how harmful fentanyl is. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.

“I am terrified both as a parent and a high school RN [registered nurse],” WCHS nurse Kathryn Simpson said. “I have a daughter who is an MCPS high school student. I have personally known people who have lost loved ones to this drug. I wish I had the answer to scare students enough to not mess with any drug because you have no idea what is in it.”

It is important that WCHS does its part to help limit fentanyl use among students, especially in the building where they may be more susceptible of getting in contact with the drug. Students must feel safe and heard in the school environment, which is why WCHS offers resources to allow students to anonymously report drug activity and safety concerns for other students as well as themselves.

“If you see something, say something,” WCHS Principal John Taylor said. “You may have noticed seeing the ‘Bulldog Cares’ signs around the walls with QR codes. Students can use the QR code and it will take them right to a form that they can fill out and say why they are worried about a student. They have the choice to give their name or not give their name.”

One step that all MCPS schools are taking to prevent overdoses is with Narcan. Narcan, otherwise known as naloxone, is an emergency medication that can reverse overdoses from fentanyl and other opioids. MCPS keeps Narcan in every school and is currently working to distribute larger supplies around the county.

“[Narcan] temporarily reverses and blocks the effects of opioids,” Simpson said. “One application can be administered directly into the nostril of the person, 911, then needs to be called immediately after the first dose is given. If after 2-3 minutes the person has not woken up a second dose can be given in the opposite nostril and wait for emergency responders to arrive. In an emergency, it is better to give [Narcan] than to not give it.”

Utilizing Narcan in schools serves as a practical and valuable way to save the lives of students endangered by synthetic opioids. WCHS is working toward giving all staff members the resources for administering Narcan within the building.

“We have already done Narcan training with all of our security and admin team and our school health nurses to make sure everybody knows how to administer it,” Taylor said. “At this point all of our security is carrying Narcan. I have my own Narcan kit which all administrators will be getting so that we have them readily available and know what to look for as far as how to help students if they do overdose.”

On Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, MCPS hosted a press conference where several county leaders, including MCPS superintendent Monifa McKnight, discussed the ongoing rise in illegal fentanyl use among students. Elena Suarez, mother of WCHS graduate Collette Russ who died from an accidental overdose in 2019, was present at the conference.

“She was very funny,” Suarez said. “I miss our laughter. What you leave behind is a web of grief and a life sentence for your families and your loved ones.”

There is no doubt that overdoses among young people are tragic. This is why not only staff, but students should take initiative when they can to help.

“The only right decision is to have a conversation with him/her and seek out help immediately,” Simpson said. “Fentanyl is highly addictive and as much as the person may want to stop taking the drug it may be hard for them to stop. Being a good friend is telling a parent/adult/healthcare provider/administrator/neighbor. Anyone. Just do not keep this information to yourself. If they are using and fall unconscious or stop breathing, seek medical help immediately.”

Local organizations such as Montgomery Goes Purple and Surviving Our Ultimate Loss (S.O.U.L) represent community wide efforts to initiate prevention, treatment, and awareness of opioids like fentanyl. Additionally, texting or calling 988 or visiting 988lifeline.org can allow one to easily access confidential and free support.

“It is hard to say no,” Simpson said. “Peer pressure is real. But the only way to truly be safe is to say no. I know it sounds trite but the decision to do so could save your life.”