- A joint Education Department-White House letter issued Monday urges schools to protect students from substance abuse and drug poisonings by providing preventative education and preparing for opioid overdoses.
- While overall youth drug use has leveled off in recent years, overdose deaths among teens doubled between 2019 and 2020 and are still rising, according to the "Dear colleague" letter from U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta.
- The letter included several resources for prevention programs and encouraged schools to implement overdose response plans by training people to use naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.
"There is no time to waste when responding to an overdose, and it is critical that youth and school personnel can access naloxone on school grounds during and after school," Cardona and Gupta's letter said.
The letter pointed to illicit fentanyl and teenagers' ability to buy synthetic opioid pills online as reasons why schools need to establish safe environments for students.
The letter came as the White House hosted a summit Monday with youth leaders, community-based coalitions, and federal partners on ways to prevent youth substance use. October is National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, very small traces of fentanyl can be deadly, and it's possible for someone to take a counterfeit pill without knowing it contains fentanyl.
As the youth overdose death rate climbed in recent years, many communities have taken action to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Five states approved legislation this year that requires schools to teach about the dangers of opioids.
In Congress, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill last month that would encourage schools to partner with community groups to educate youth about synthetic opioids. That bill also would create a federal task force to improve responses to youth use of synthetic opioids, as well as a federal data collection on the prevalence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in secondary schools.
The letter from the White House and Education Department noted several actions already taken to make naloxone more readily available, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval this year of the first over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray.
About 30 states have laws or policies on access in schools to naloxone, according to a 2022 report by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association.
In addition to government policies, several school communities and parent organizations have taken initiatives to increase awareness about the dangers of synthetic opioids. Administrators with Oregon's Beaverton School District have been sharing their “Fake and Fatal” campaign, which was created after several students and alumni died from fentanyl poisoning.
The district also developed lessons, along with teacher facilitator guides, for teaching about the dangers of fentanyl use.