County leaders hold press conference to address spike in youth overdoses


Photo courtesy MCPS

In the past year, there has been a 78% rise in overdoses and a 100% rise in fatalities.

By Alessia Pedrazzini

MCPS leaders joined local government officials at a press conference on Thursday to address the growing impact of opioid overdoses on the school system.

During the press conference, officials announced plans to spread awareness of the opioid epidemic to students in the school system. In response to a rise in youth opioid overdoses, MCPS will to strengthen the unit on opioids in the Health Education course and supply opioid reversal agents — like Narcan — within schools.

The required health course will incorporate the “Speak up, Save a Life” program, which educates Marylanders about the Good Samaritan Law that grants immunity to people who call authorities to save a person’s life. School district leaders didn’t provide additional details about the contents to update the curriculum.

While the total number of overdose-related fatalities has decreased, fatal and non-fatal overdoses have increased overall among youths due to experimentation. Superintendent Monifa McKnight noted that in the past two years, there had been 16 youth fatal overdoses and 59 non-fatal overdoses in Montgomery County, according to the MCPD. In the past year, there has been a 78% rise in overdoses and a 100% rise in fatalities.

McKnight also expressed concerns over the rise in the availability of lethal drugs that have fueled the epidemic in the MCPS community. The conference took place nearly one year after Whitman sophomore Landen Hausman died after overdosing on a counterfeit Percocet pill laced with fentanyl. 

I’m a parent too, so every time a parent in our community loses a child, I feel it twice,” McKnight said. “Once as a superintendent and second as a parent.”

Montgomery County Police Department Chief Marcus Jones said at the conference that the factors driving today’s youth to abuse fentanyl and opioids are not the same as those for adults. He cited the subsiding trend of youth accidentally purchasing fentanyl and instead pointed to a recent pattern of intentional purchases.

“Youth users of opioids do not have the same safety nets, tolerances or experiences with drugs as an adult would,” Jones said. “The risks for overdoses are higher.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said he has worked with police to develop a specialized overdose team to ensure prosecution of dealers who sell drugs to overdose victims.

“Fentanyl is 50 times more dangerous and potent than heroin,” McCarthy said. “We are playing Russian roulette with pills and it is our children that are suffering the consequences.”

McCarthy explained how a few grains of salt are equivalent to the amount of fentanyl it would take to be lethal to the human body. He said 25% of counterfeit pills are laced with enough fentanyl to be deadly.

MCPS School System Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Kapunan also told reporters that the school system supplies Naloxone — an emergency opioid overdose reversal medication more commonly known as Narcan — at all MCPS schools. 

“We are asking all community members to learn about it and decide if this is something we need in our home,” Kapunan said.

Kapunan urges parents to educate themselves about the medication and consider keeping it in their homes in case of an emergency. 

According to McKnight, changes to the school system’s health curriculum will make students more aware of the life-saving effects of Narcan on opioids.

“I’m here to raise alarm that these drugs are readily available to our students and on the rise in our community,” McKnight said. “They are resulting in deaths and it has to stop.”