One of the problems plaguing U.S. schools is the drug crisis. A frightening statistic shows the drastic increase in overdose deaths in youth ages 14 to 18 between 2019 and 2021, coinciding with the rise in illicit fentanyl. Moreover, the Lund Report reported: “Oregon holds an ugly distinction: Its rate of teenagers killed by overdose is growing faster than in any other state.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug-related deaths among teens in Oregon increased by over 650%.
As a result, Oregon’s leadership hopes to end these senseless overdoses and deaths with educational materials and classroom discussions. The program will go beyond Nancy Reagan’s 1980s “Just Say No” advertising campaign that stressed resisting peer pressure.
Expressing support, Portland-based advocacy groups such as Oregon Recovers, Song for Charlie, and local healthcare providers testified before Oregon’s Senate Committee on Education. For example, Oregon Recovers Policy & Advocacy Director Tony Morris said: “There is no doubt in my mind this bill [SB 238] will save lives. Fentanyl is claiming too many lives, snatching away too many futures, [and] leaving too many grieving families.”
Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek is set to sign SB 238 to launch the effort. Once signed, the Oregon Health Authority, State Board of Education, and Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission will join forces. They will craft classroom materials related to the dangers of opioids like fentanyl. In addition, the curriculum will include informing youth about the state laws surrounding drug and alcohol use.
Youth Unaware of Fentanyl Dangers
The Oregon Council for Behavioral Health Executive Director Heather Jeffris explained that professionals had issued warnings for the past 10 to 12 years. “We don’t have a youth system for substance use disorder.
Additionally, one of SB 238’s chief sponsors, Senator Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), researched the problem. He discovered “there is no current educational work to let kids know about fentanyl.”
The senator’s discovery is evident. According to The Central Oregonian, a recent survey authorized by Song for Charlie and conducted by Breakwater Strategy explored behaviors and attitudes toward dangerous substances among youth ages 13-24. Researchers found that less than 48% of young Americans and 36% of teens know that fentanyl is used to create counterfeit pills. Furthermore, only 40% of young Americans and 31% of teens consider themselves knowledgeable about the drug.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Oregon Captial Chronicle: Fentanyl education bill heads to Gov. Kotek
The Oregonian: Portland’s escalating drug overdoses: What we know
JAMA: Trends in Drug Overdose Deaths Among US Adolescents, January 2010 to June 2021
The Lund Report: State inaction left Oregon teens vulnerable to fentanyl’s fatal spread; by Emily Green
Central Oregonian: The growing scourge of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills; by Ramona McCallister