White House and Education Department urge schools to safeguard youth from fentanyl risks

Breaking News:

  • A joint letter from the Education Department and the White House released on Monday is calling on schools to protect students from substance abuse and drug poisonings through preventative education and preparedness for opioid overdoses. Read the full letter here.
  • While overall youth drug use has remained steady in recent years, there has been a twofold increase in overdose deaths among teens between 2019 and 2020, and the numbers continue to rise, according to a “Dear colleague” letter from U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta.
  • The letter includes various resources for prevention programs and encourages schools to establish overdose response plans that include training on how to administer naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Updates on the Story:

“There is a sense of urgency when it comes to responding to an overdose, and it is of utmost importance that both students and school personnel have access to naloxone on school premises during all times,” stated Cardona and Gupta in their joint letter.

The letter highlights the presence of illicit fentanyl and the ability of teenagers to purchase synthetic opioid pills online as reasons why schools must create safe environments for students.

Furthermore, the letter was released in conjunction with a summit held at the White House on Monday, which brought together youth leaders, community-based coalitions, and federal partners to discuss strategies for preventing youth substance use. October is National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has cautioned that even small amounts of fentanyl can be lethal, and individuals may unknowingly consume counterfeit pills containing this substance.

As the number of youth overdose deaths continues to rise, many communities have taken action to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Five states have passed legislation this year requiring schools to educate students about the risks associated with opioids.

In Congress, lawmakers recently introduced a bipartisan bill that encourages schools to partner with community groups to provide education about synthetic opioids. The bill also proposes the creation of a federal task force to enhance responses to youth use of synthetic opioids and establish a federal data collection system to track the prevalence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in secondary schools.

The joint letter from the White House and Education Department highlights several initiatives already in place to make naloxone more accessible, including the FDA’s approval earlier this year of an over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray.

About 30 states have implemented laws or policies regarding naloxone access in schools, according to a 2022 report by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association.

In addition to government efforts, numerous school communities and parent organizations have launched initiatives to increase awareness about the dangers of synthetic opioids. The Beaverton School District in Oregon has been promoting its “Fake and Fatal” campaign, which was developed after several students and alumni died from fentanyl poisoning. Learn more about the campaign here.

The district has also created lessons and teacher facilitator guides to educate students about the dangers associated with fentanyl use.

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