Fentanyl in High School: A Texas Community Grapples With the Reach of the Deadly Opioid

KYLE, Texas — The hallways of Lehman Excessive College regarded like another on a latest fall day. Its 2,100 college students talked and laughed as they hurried to their subsequent courses, transferring previous partitions lined with flyers that marketed homecoming occasions, golf equipment, and soccer video games. Subsequent to these flyers, although, have been posters with a grim message warning college students that fentanyl is extraordinarily lethal.

These posters weren’t there final college yr.

Proper earlier than this college yr began, the Hays Consolidated Unbiased College District, which incorporates Lehman, introduced that two college students had died after taking fentanyl-laced tablets. They have been the primary recorded scholar deaths tied to the artificial opioid on this Central Texas college district, which has highschool campuses in Kyle and Buda, a close-by city. Throughout the first month of faculty, two extra fatalities have been confirmed.

The response from college officers, staff, college students, and oldsters has been intense, mixing heartbreak and terror with anger and motion. The group, it appears, is able to battle again. The college system has prioritized its current anti-drug instructional marketing campaign. College students are wrestling with their dangerous behaviors and peer stress. And oldsters are attempting to begin tough conversations about medicine with their youngsters.

They’re “taking the bull by the horns,” mentioned Tim Savoy, the varsity district’s chief communications officer.

However there are additionally questions on whether or not these efforts will likely be sufficient.

The overdose downside going through the district, which is simply south of Austin and about an hour northeast of San Antonio, mimics a nationwide trend. Greater than 107,000 individuals within the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a report. Most of these deaths — 71,238 of them — concerned fentanyl and different artificial opioids. The Drug Enforcement Administration has warned that fentanyl is more and more discovering its means into “pretend prescription tablets” which are “simply accessible and infrequently bought on social media and e-commerce platforms.”

The police chief in Kyle, Jeff Barnett, mentioned that’s an issue in his space. “You might in all probability discover a fentanyl-laced capsule inside 5 minutes on social media and doubtless prepare a gathering inside the hour” with a vendor, Barnett mentioned.

A photo shows Jeff Barnett standing indoors next to several folded American flags.
Jeff Barnett, chief of police in Kyle, Texas, says fentanyl-laced tablets are simply accessible on-line. “You might in all probability discover a fentanyl-laced capsule inside 5 minutes on social media and doubtless prepare a gathering inside the hour” with a vendor, Barnett says.(Colleen DeGuzman / KHN)

The fentanyl menace has made excessive schoolers extra vulnerable to getting ahold of the deadly tablets. They could imagine they’re utilizing get together medicine that, although unlawful, are usually not — on their very own — practically as lethal as fentanyl.

The children are “not deliberately shopping for fentanyl,” Jennifer Sharpe Potter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UT Well being San Antonio, mentioned in testimony throughout a September hearing earlier than the Texas Home of Representatives. They don’t know that it’s within the tablets they purchase, she added, describing the issue because the “third wave of the overdose disaster.”

Seventeen-year-old Kevin McConville, a Lehman scholar who died in August, seems to be one in every of this wave’s victims. In a video the district produced, Kevin’s dad and mom clarify with grief heavy of their eyes that after their son’s dying, they discovered from his mates that he was struggling to sleep. After taking tablets he thought have been Percocet and Xanax, he didn’t get up, his dad and mom mentioned.

Tales like which have led the varsity district to difficulty the next warning on its website: “Fentanyl is right here. We have to speak about fentanyl. And fentanyl is lethal.” It’s 100 instances as potent as morphine and 50 instances as potent as heroin, in keeping with the DEA, and a pair of milligrams is potentially lethal.

The district launched a “Preventing Fentanyl” marketing campaign — which enlists metropolis police and emergency medical companies personnel. There’s a “HopeLine” to which college students can anonymously ship details about classmates who could also be taking illicit medicine. Beginning in sixth grade, college students are required to observe a 13-minute video that underscores how harmful and lethal fentanyl is and explains establish when a classmate could also be overdosing.

“We’re recruiting college students to assist us be the eyes and ears in the event that they’re at a celebration or at a buddy’s home,” Savoy mentioned.

The college system additionally hopes to lift college students’ consciousness of the dangers they face. Any capsule — it doesn’t matter what it’s — that didn’t come from a pharmacy can’t be trusted: “It’s like enjoying Russian roulette,” Savoy mentioned.

A photo shows the outside of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District's administration office.
Since July, 4 college students within the Hays Consolidated Unbiased College District in Central Texas have died from fentanyl overdoses.(Colleen DeGuzman / KHN)

The message could also be resonating. Sara Hutson, a Lehman Excessive senior, mentioned sharing over-the-counter tablets reminiscent of Tylenol and Motrin was once frequent, however she now not considers it protected. Her belief is gone.

However different college students aren’t as cautious. Lisa Peralta shared in a Fb put up in September that her daughter, who’s in seventh grade, admitted to consuming an “anxiousness gummy” her buddy gave her. “I’m scared as a result of my daughter is a follower,” the Kyle resident wrote. “I simply don’t belief that she gained’t do it once more if she feels pressured.”

Irrespective of how clear the district and oldsters make their messages, Savoy worries they could by no means be sufficient as a result of college students are so adventurous. “It’s simply the teenage mindset,” he mentioned. “They suppose, ‘We’re invincible; it’s not going to occur to me.’ However it’s occurring to us in our group.”

Nonetheless, the emotions of unease and grief are generally palpable. College students have been preventing extra at college, mentioned Jacob Valdez, a Lehman sophomore who knew two of the scholars who died. That is likely to be occurring, he added, as a result of “everyone seems to be simply angsty.”

The strain shouldn’t be restricted to center and highschool college students. It’s additionally grow to be very actual for fogeys of elementary college children, for the reason that DEA warned the general public in August about fentanyl-laced tablets that look like brightly colored candies. The Hays college district can be hanging warning posters geared towards youthful college students.

Jillien Brown of Kyle mentioned she is nervous about her daughters, 5-year-old Vivian and 7-year-old Scarlett. “We instructed them that there’s some scary issues happening, that persons are getting very sick and so they’re dying from taking what they suppose is sweet or drugs,” Brown mentioned. “We use the phrase ‘poison,’ so like when Snow White bit the apple.”

However the dialog should be ongoing, Brown mentioned, as a result of the day after she talked to her daughters, “some little child on the bus gave them a sweet and so they ate it.”

Equally, Kyle resident April Munson, a former elementary college trainer, considers all of it “gut-wrenching.” She confirmed her 9-year-old son, Ethan, footage of the multicolored “rainbow fentanyl” tablets. “It’s a tough dialog to have, however exhausting conversations are sometimes an important ones,” she mentioned. “And, actually, you possibly can’t afford to have elephants within the room.”

And whilst dad and mom and the varsity officers try to forestall fentanyl from placing once more, one other actuality test comes.

Final yr, the varsity district began stocking in each college a provide of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, also referred to as Narcan. Thus far this semester, regardless of all of the group has gone by way of, it has been used to save lots of 4 extra college students, Savoy mentioned. In a single case, Savoy mentioned, first responders had to make use of three doses to revive a scholar — the fentanyl “was that robust,” he mentioned.

A photo shows rows of drawings of shirts strung over Lehman High's health care department.
Pupil art work is on show at Lehman Excessive College in Kyle, Texas, in entrance of its well being care division.(Colleen DeGuzman / KHN)

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