The superintendent, police chief and other leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, urged the community to be vigilant and highlighted available resources Thursday in response to a rise in youth opioid overdoses.
At a news conference, police Chief Marcus Jones said a Montgomery County Public Schools student overdosed last weekend, and added that the county reported 48 youth overdoses in 2022 compared to 27 in 2021. Eleven county overdoses last year were fatal.
Overdoses overall are down in the county, Jones said, but the numbers among young people are rising.
In addition to last weekend’s overdose, he said, “we’ve had some incidents involving some students over the past few months.”
All Montgomery County Public Schools have Narcan, and the county is increasing the number of Narcan kits it has in high schools. School principals will be briefed on fentanyl and opioid overdose issues, and community engagement officers are working with school officials to conduct regular checks in schools “to make sure these things are not occurring,” Jones said.
“Every time a parent in our community loses a child, I feel it twice — once as the superintendent, and once as a parent,” Superintendent Monifa McKnight said.
Under Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, anyone who reports an overdose won’t be prosecuted, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said, touting school appearances and events at local private schools to increase awareness about the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs.
“We are playing Russian roulette with pills, and it is our children that are suffering the consequence of what’s going on in the community,” McCarthy said.
Most overdoses in Montgomery County occur in residences, Jones said, adding “young people are feeling emboldened enough to utilize these drugs during the school day that sometimes are causing these overdoses.”
The counterfeit pills are not being made by students, he said, and aren’t “necessarily being manufactured here in Montgomery County.” Nonetheless, “Individuals would be arrested for distributing fentanyl, particularly on our school properties, or anywhere in Montgomery County.”
Elena Suarez, whose daughter Collette Russ died of an accidental fentanyl-laced overdose at 19 years old, said, “Everything is laced with fentanyl today, and it will get you sooner or later. What you leave behind is a web of grief, and a life sentence for your families and your loved ones.”
The county is prioritizing mental health resources for students in its budget, McKnight said, and school system medical officer Dr. Patricia Kapunan said the county’s 988 hotline can be used for anyone having a mental health emergency.
“I’m here to raise an alarm, to say that these drugs are readily available to our students, they are on the rise in our community, and they are resulting in death,” McKnight said. “And it has to stop.”
Separately, in Fairfax County, Virginia, school board member Laura Jane Cohen said this week during a work session that, “We all collectively as a board have had a lot of conversations around the extreme issues that we’re having with substance abuse and addiction in our schools.”