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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: It takes a village to combat kids’ fentanyl use

The Columbian
Published: January 26, 2023, 6:03am

In fighting the scourge of fentanyl, warnings are inadequate. Knowledge is necessary for parents to understand the danger posed by the relatively new synthetic drug.

Because of that, Evergreen Public Schools and Vancouver Public Schools are holding informational forums to discuss a drug that has infected local schools. In conjunction with local law enforcement, presentations will be made at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Fort Vancouver High School and 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Evergreen High School. Russian-language and Spanish-language sessions also will be conducted.

The need is evident. In May, a 16-year-old student at Hudson’s Bay High School overdosed in a bathroom at the school and died six days later. KGW-TV reported in December: “A district resource officer wrote in a report that they found burnt tin foil and blue pills, likely fentanyl, on the girl’s clothes.”

District officials reported the girl’s death to the school community, but omitted any mention of fentanyl. “We’re trying to balance … the desire of an entire community to understand what’s happening versus the desire of a family that’s (been) through something horrible,” Superintendent Jeff Snell told the television station.

That is understandable. But it also is important that the public develop an understanding of the prevalence and threat of fentanyl. Nationally, teen overdose deaths have more than doubled in the past three years, and a majority of those are attributed to fentanyl.

As the Evergreen Public Schools website states: “Fentanyl has been called ‘the deadliest drug threat facing this country’ by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This cheap, synthetic drug is especially dangerous to young people and is taking a deadly toll not only nationally, but here in Clark County.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Adding to the crisis is the fact that it is easily mixed with other drugs.

In 2021, Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer and public health director, said: “Anyone who uses powdered drugs or takes pills that were not given to them by a pharmacy should assume they contain fentanyl. Drugs purchased online, from friends, or from regular dealers could be deadly. There’s no way to know how much fentanyl is in a drug or if it’s evenly distributed throughout the batch.”

It is impossible for schools to avoid the scourge. A Washington law passed in 2019 requires large school districts to “obtain and maintain at least one set of opioid overdose reversal medication doses in each of its high schools.”

It is disappointing, frustrating, even shocking that the standard mission of high schools would include dealing with opioid overdoses. But that fact symbolizes the extent of the crisis. The Vancouver Public Schools website stresses: “Teens are purchasing what they think are OxyContin, Percoset or Xanax pills via social media, but drug dealers are making these fake pills with … fentanyl to increase their profits.”

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency says the fentanyl chain typically begins in China or India, where ingredients are manufactured and then sent to the United States, Canada or Mexico for processing. Interrupting that chain — including with strong border security — is essential, but so is knowledge on the part of potential users and parents.

Slowing the use of fentanyl, particularly among young people, will require a communal effort.