Deaths from fake pills with fentanyl are surging across the country and right here in our own school district. In the past 18 months, we've lost several students to fentanyl-related poisonings — teenagers who had hopes and dreams and plans. These teenagers had families who loved them and are still coming to grips with their losses.
Teens are purchasing what they think are OxyContin, Percoset or Xanax pills via social media, but drug dealers are making these fake pills with the cheaper, stronger and more deadly synthetic drug called fentanyl to increase their profits. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is odorless, tasteless and colorless. Teens never know what they’re getting. One pill can kill them. One pill.
The pills are nicknamed “Blues” for their common color (though they can come in other colors) or “M30s” for the stamp on the pills. The tablets are so well made that even experienced users say that they can’t tell the difference between a counterfeit pill and a pill manufactured by a pharmaceutical company. To be clear, these are not pharmaceutical-grade painkillers; they are pills made by drug dealers, mostly outside the country. There is no quality control. Pills in the same batch can have wildly varying levels of fentanyl. The amount of fentanyl is takes to overdose and die is equivalent to two grains of sand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert in December 2020 because of an increase in synthetic opioids that hit the western United States — and the Interstate 5 corridor, in particular. Already this year in Washington County, the Westside Interagency Narcotics Team has seized more than 17,000 pills with most suspected as counterfeit “M30" Oxycodone pills. In all of 2020, the team seized fewer than 14,000 pills. Learn more about the regional crisis.
Local investigators point to advertisements on social media platforms like Snapchat. Officials say that young people find pills especially appealing because they’re cheap, more socially acceptable than meth or heroin and don’t have a tell-tale smell like alcohol or marijuana.
We partnered with the Beaverton Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Washington County Public Health Department to raise awareness about the dangers of buying pills on social media. We posted on the district's and schools' social media accounts. Our middle, high and option school students received fentanyl-related lessons in their health and advisory classes. Our administrators and staff received specific fentanyl training. And we engaged in a Community Conversation about the dangers of fentanyl with local experts and impacted family members.
How Can You Help?
One of the best ways to protect kids from substance abuse is by having regular and open conversations to educate them about the risks. Listen to them without judgment. Also monitor their social media use. Drugs are often offered by someone that they know or a stranger that they meet on social media.
Watch for changes in their behavior including:
Irregular eating or sleeping patterns
General signs of depression or anxiety
Lack of interest in activities that they once loved
Drastic clothing style changes
If you notice a change, ask about it. Trust your instincts.