A bipartisan bill introduced Thursday in the U.S. House would encourage schools and their community partners to teach students about the dangers of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.
The Fentanyl Awareness for Children and Teens in Schools, or FACTS, Act also would create a federal task force to coordinate and improve federal responses to youth misuse of synthetic opioids and overdoses. The bill calls for federal data collection about the prevalence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in secondary schools.
While several communities and states have introduced school-based curriculum about synthetic opioids in recent years, the bill's sponsors and supporters said many youth are still unaware of how lethal counterfeit pills containing fentanyl can be.
Between 2019 and 2020, the country saw a staggering 169% increase in deaths of youth ages 14-18 from illicit fentanyl and synthetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of all drug overdose deaths among people of all ages in 2021, 75.4% involved opioids. Nearly 88% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Even small traces of fentanyl can be deadly, and it is possible for someone to take a counterfeit pill without knowing it contains fentanyl, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In a press call about the FACTS bill Thursday, sponsors Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, and Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-California, stressed how the legislation could save lives.
"We need to put politics aside and act with urgency using every tool at our disposal, finding common ground across party lines, to stop every potential tragedy that we can and get this crisis under control," said Kiley. "Many Americans are not aware of the severity of this risk until it is too late."
Bonamici said deaths from fentanyl poisoning are a "preventable crisis," and she thanked grieving parents and school districts that are already working to raise awareness about fake pills that may contain fentanyl.
Laura Didier's son Zack died in 2020 at age 17 from fentanyl poisoning. "There was no awareness at that time. This crisis was new to our community, and I was blindsided by the tragic and sudden and unexpected death of my son," said Didier, who works with the nonprofit Song for Charlie to educate youth and parents about fentanyl.
"I felt like if I'd had this knowledge, if I knew about this crisis and the counterfeit pills situation, if my son had known, he would still be here," Didier said during the press call.
Also speaking in the press call was Kristen Gustafson, drug and alcohol intervention program educator for Oregon's Beaverton School District. The school district developed resources and curriculum about synthetic opioids after the loss of several students due to fentanyl poisoning.
Resources for the district's Fake and Fatal campaign are publicly available. Gustafson also said the district is adding a lesson for high school students on how to recognize an overdose and how to react.
Included in the FACTS legislation is a provision for professional development to help teachers and other school employees address and prevent opioid misuse.
Earlier this month, the National Association of School Nurses released a free toolkit to help school nurses and other school personnel respond to drug overdoses on campuses, including using naloxone to try to reverse an opioid overdose.