Fairfax Co. hospitals experiencing surge in fentanyl emergency room visits among teenagers

Like other communities in the D.C. region and across the nation, Fairfax County, Virginia, is in the grips of the opioid epidemic driven by fentanyl; and sadly, teenagers are increasingly caught up in the crisis.

Concerned parents gathered at Woodson High School Monday night for a briefing by school, health and public safety officials on the dimensions of the drug crisis and its impact on teens.

“Among American adolescents, we’ve seen quite a rapid increase in fentanyl deaths,” said Jennifer Feltes, an epidemiologist with the Fairfax County Health Department. Parents were told that seven Fairfax County teens, under 18 years old, suffered deadly opioid overdoses from 2020 through nine months of 2022.

And even more teenagers have wound up in hospital emergency departments.

“Among those 17 and younger, we have sadly seen an increase in ED visits for nonfatal opioid overdose in recent years,” Feltes said. While there were no hospital visits related to opioids in 2019, there were 27 nonfatal visits to hospitals last year in Fairfax County and 11 so far this year.

While urging parents to be vigilant to the threat that opioids pose to teenagers, a substance abuse expert said less than 3% of students use opioids regularly.

“We are here to talk about opioids. That is a very important topic. But I do want you all to remember that … the top three most widely used substances are still nicotine, marijuana and alcohol,” said Tiffany Jones, senior substance abuse prevention specialist for Fairfax County schools.

Jones recommended monitoring medications in the household.

“If you have opioids, I want you to treat them as a loaded gun,” Jones said.

She said it’s also important to encourage young people to do the right thing. And Jones said strong connections between parents and children, as well as teachers and students, helps keep kids from engaging in risky behavior.

Fairfax County School Superintendent Michelle Reid told parents that the fentanyl issue is significant and will take parents and school officials working together to safeguard students against it.

At the information session, parents were offered training in administering Narcan, the lifesaving inhaler used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. Students told the gathering that some teachers regularly carry Narcan and student overdoses have become too frequent.

The officials leading the discussion said that while fentanyl and opioid overdoses are impacting lives nationwide, it’s a fairly new crisis, forcing school systems and communities to learn together and consider next steps to counter the crisis.

The school system told parents that it is responding to the crisis by ensuring students receive health and drug education, substance abuse specialists are available to students, and Narcan is stocked in all schools.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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