Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) have released a new toolkit for schools to help address a rise in deaths related to fentanyl and other opioids in Oregon. The Fentanyl & Opioid Response Toolkit for Schools will help school staff communicate to parents, caregivers and students about the dangers of illegal opioid use. It also describes how schools can create their own emergency protocols and access life-saving drugs.
The toolkit also provides advice on how to talk to loved ones about fentanyl and opioids, as well as how students can talk to each other about opioids.
“We want to make sure that youth have the ability to make healthy choices for themselves,” said Ely Sanders, school health specialist at ODE.
“One pill can kill”
Opioids are powerful drugs that are used legally to manage pain. But inappropriate use of opioids has been rising across the nation and in Oregon. Overdoses of these drugs are common when they’re used incorrectly. A particularly powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl, has been flooding into the Pacific Northwest from illegal sources and causing deaths among youth and young adults.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and can kill someone in minutes. In 2020, 49 youth and young adults (under age 25) died from a fentanyl overdose in Oregon. In the first nine months of 2021, the number of youth and young adult deaths had already reached 73.
The graph here shows the rising trend of drug overdose deaths in Oregon, for all age groups, broken down by drug.
The key message that ODE and OHA want schools to send students and families is, “One pill can kill,” said Ashley Thirstrup, OHA’s interim director of health and education. Fentanyl is so potent it can kill someone quickly by causing them to overdose and stop breathing.
Many of the deadly pills that end up in schools are counterfeit.
Counterfeit pills are made in illegal labs and can be laced with fentanyl. They are often made to look like other opioids, such as oxycodone. Counterfeit fentanyl can also look like common non-opioid medication such as Adderall, which treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
“Any medication or pill that comes to you that’s not prescribed from your own doctor is a risk,” Thirstrup said.
Examples of authentic pills versus counterfeit pills
The new toolkit released by ODE and OHA prepares school leadership for a possible overdose on their campus. It describes how to access, store and administer naloxone (also known as Narcan), a nasal spray that can protect someone from overdosing. If someone is displaying symptoms of even a suspected overdose, administering naloxone to that person is harmless and could save their life.
“Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can restore breathing within minutes of an opioid overdose,” Thirstrup said.