- Students in four states will soon receive required lessons on the dangers of opioids, including information about deadly synthetic pills containing fentanyl, under new legislation approved this year.
- Laws in Oregon, Illinois, Texas and Mississippi have varying requirements regarding opioid prevention curriculum and grade levels for instruction, but all call for statewide lessons on fentanyl and drug abuse. Similar legislation in California is under consideration.
- The push to educate students about the risks of opioids and fentanyl comes as states and localities aim to decrease youth overdoses from illicit fentanyl, which has been rising at alarming levels in recent years.
These four states are among the first to formally mandate school-based lessons on opioids, but several localities across the country have held information sessions, posted resources on district and community websites, developed their own classroom lessons, and stocked naloxone in schools to reverse opioid overdoses.
It is expected that more states will propose opioid education in schools, said Ed Ternan, who co-founded Song for Charlie with his wife Mary. The fentanyl awareness nonprofit is named for the Ternans’ son, Charlie, who lost his life in May 2020 after taking a counterfeit pill. The nonprofit organization raises awareness about illicit fentanyl.
"The solution, especially when you're talking about school-age youth, is knowledge," Ternan said. "The drug landscape today is like a minefield."
Song for Charlie's awareness campaign recently added resources to help parents talk to their teens and young adult children about the dangers of drugs. The "Connect to Protect" portal, which was created through funding from the California Department of Health Care Services, is geared toward families in California, and there are efforts to customize the free resources to different racial and ethnic communities in California and in other states, Ternan said.
"We have to help kids navigate this new landscape, and in order to do that, parents need to learn about and get up to speed with what's going on," he said.
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday said the rate of counterfeit pill use in overdose deaths more than doubled from July through September 2019 to October through December 2021.
People who have died from counterfeit pill use were younger, more often Hispanic or Latino, and more frequently had a history of prescription drug misuse and drug use by smoking, compared to those who died from drug overdoses but did not have evidence of counterfeit pill use.
According to CDC, opioids were involved in about 75.4% of all drug overdose deaths in 2021 among people of all ages. Nearly 88% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
For teens ages 14-18, there was a 169% increase in deaths from illicit fentanyl and synthetics from 2019 to 2020 and a nearly 30% increase from 2020 to 2021, according to CDC data.
CDC's Friday report said federal, state and local public health messaging about the dangers of pills obtained illicitly or without a prescription could be successful in reducing overdose deaths.
The White House has declared Aug. 27 - Sept. 2 as Overdose Awareness Week.