Montgomery Co. schools continue efforts to combat fentanyl use

There’s a concerning shift in how young people in Montgomery County, Maryland, are coming into contact with fentanyl, according to school officials.

New information from health officials suggests that rather than accidental exposure to fentanyl, students are seeking out the drug themselves.

“We had heard mostly that illicit fentanyl was ending up in counterfeit pills billed as something else,” Dr. Patricia Kapunan, medical officer for Montgomery County Public Schools, told WTOP.

Now, Kapunan said, there’s a “new phenomenon” of students knowing the drug they are taking is fentanyl. Kapunan added, “It’s hard to know what the scope is,” but officials are continuing their work to address the issue.

So far this year, five Montgomery County students have died of overdoses. None of those occurred on school property.

There have been non-deadly overdoses in schools, Kapunan said.

“So far this school year, we have administered naloxone for a suspected overdose — those might not be confirmed — 13 times,” she said. “In the vast, vast majority of those cases, the naloxone was administered by trained health care staff and we were able to successfully intervene.”

The school system has partnered with a coalition of organizations under the umbrella “Montgomery Goes Purple” to provide forums on fentanyl and substance abuse.

Among the subjects included is information and training on how to use naloxone, the drug that, when administered properly, can reverse an opioid overdose.

“At our forums, we’ve offered the training to anyone who attends, which includes staff, parents and students, and we’ve given out hundreds of doses,” Kapunan said.

There are a number of ways people can obtain naloxone. It’s available at firehouses in Montgomery County, and, Kapunan said, in Maryland, “pharmacists can dispense it without a specific doctor’s order.”

In a recent case of a suspected overdose of a Quince Orchard High School student in a McDonald’s bathroom, other students rushed for help, and naloxone was administered.

“This is a very proactive, generous generation who likes to know what’s happening and cares about the people in their world,” Kapunan said, referring to the student community.

She said along with information on substance abuse prevention efforts, the forums are designed to include discussions on the broader issue of mental health, “because all of it is integrated.”

MCPS has naloxone available in all its schools, and Kapunan said there’s an ongoing discussion on “who needs to be trained, where do the emergency medications need to be kept, similar to where you would position an AED or EpiPen,” Kapunan said.

The next fentanyl forum is scheduled for Saturday, March 25, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Paint Branch High School.

“I’m really pleased with how we’ve been able to stand together with community partners and increase community engagement and partnership around youth health,” Kapunan said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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