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How Texas Schools Can Fight Fentanyl

Health

Fentanyl drug In prescription medication pills bottle. | Image by luchschenF, Shutterstock

Fentanyl overdoses are a growing problem in Texas, and public schools are no exception.

Texas experienced 1,672 fentanyl-related deaths in 2021, an 89% increase from 2020. Even rural school districts are stocking up on NARCAN to fight fentanyl overdoses, as reported by The Dallas Express.

Robin Lindeman, executive director of the Austin-based rehabilitation center Infinite Recovery, spoke with The Dallas Express to discuss this epidemic and what can be done to fight it.

Lindeman said opioids have always been in schools, but “we’re highlighting it now because fentanyl’s involved and people are dying.”

She said the problem is “prevalent everywhere right now in the United States,” including public schools.

“Unfortunately, our children in high school, and even in middle school, are not safe with the way that fentanyl is packaged, specifically with pills like Oxycontin or Xanax,” Lindeman said. “When a student is given a pill, they’re thinking [it] came from a pharmacy, so they’re not understanding that it’s actually a pressed pill that’s cut with fentanyl. It’s extremely deceiving,” she continued.

“So, a kid that wants to try a Xanax from a friend of theirs down the street takes the Xanax and he dies of a fentanyl overdose because he has no idea that it’s not from a pharmacy,” she continued. “This is not something a doctor prescribed. This is a pill that a drug dealer had, cut it with fentanyl, pressed it down, and then sold it as a Xanax you could get prescribed from a doctor or a pharmacy.”

Lindeman told The Dallas Express that she does not believe “that school districts or schools, in general, are doing enough to support their students when it comes to drug use.”

“I believe in early prevention, awareness, and education.”

Lindeman defined early prevention as “providing support to students,” which includes “hiring more school counselors to really get to know the student body, to be able to identify the students that are struggling, and be able to intervene way before they decide… to try this pill because my friend said it would make me feel relaxed or make me feel good.”

She emphasized the importance of “identifying the children that are struggling with emotional regulations — that are struggling with developing and utilizing coping skills — because those are the reasons people start using drugs. They need an escape.”

Lindeman believes the “most important thing [school] districts should be doing” is “identifying these children, giving them support, giving them resources to address the mental health piece, [and connecting them] with community resources to support them.”

“And they’re not spending money on that,” she continued. “They’re not spending money on that extra stuff. They’re cutting teachers, they’re cutting salaries, and they’re cutting in all the places that are going to end up killing students because they don’t have support. There is no intervention.”

She said there is nobody to identify kids that are struggling and intervene by providing them with mental health support.

“Let’s get them with a child psychiatrist. Let’s diagnose them. Let’s support them. Let’s support the family unit. Those types of things aren’t happening,” she told The Dallas Express.

Lindeman said that unfortunately, campaigns like “Just Say No,” launched by Nancy Reagan in the early 1980s, are simply not effective.

“The D.A.R.E. programs — they may bring a little bit of awareness to the drug issue, but those programs aren’t helpful,” she said.

“Drugs are in the schools,” she continued. “We have to be able to teach the student, educate them about the dangers of drug use, [and be] very forthcoming with them about what can happen if they use, but also combatting it from a different angle, and being able to stop something in its tracks way before it would ever lead to a student actually deciding to use heroin or a pill to change the way they feel because of the mental health piece — because they don’t know how to emotionally regulate because they don’t have those coping skills.”

Lindeman noted that she firmly believes schools have a responsibility to be involved in protecting their students from drug abuse.

“Identifying these mental health needs [and] identifying the children that need additional support will further teachers’ mission of teaching and educating,” she said. “It’s our social duty to be able to protect our children [and] to support our children because they’re the next generation of people out in the community — working, starting families, [and] having children.”

She continued, “Not providing [mental health] support and that early intervention is resulting in students dying. It’s resulting in death.”

Lindeman told The Dallas Express that teachers can be crucial because they know the students better than anyone else on staff and can connect them with the type of support they may need.

“The teachers that know their students, have developed that rapport with their students, [and] have that level of trust with their students, are going to be able to identify students that are at higher risk or… are already engaging in substance abuse,” she said.

Lindeman noted the importance of the teacher/student relationship. If that relationship is already built, then when a teacher identifies a student at high risk for drug abuse, the teacher can talk with them about their struggles and connect them with a school counselor.

“The school counselor needs to be involved with the community resources to be able to support these kids,” she said, “But the first step is teachers identifying who’s at high risk and who needs that additional support. It starts with the teachers.”

Lindeman also told The Dallas Express she believes in harm reduction strategies, which aim to “reduce negative consequences associated with drug use.”

“A lot of people don’t agree with this,” she said, “but drugs are in schools. We’re not going to take the drugs away from the schools.”

“If we understand that there are going to be some students that are going to try a drug no matter what we do… we can set up some type of harm reduction,” she continued, specifically advocating for fentanyl testing strips which can show whether a drug is laced with fentanyl.

Lindemann added that parents can help protect their children from drug abuse by learning about the various drugs on the street and “educating themselves on the effects of the drugs so they know what to look for.”

“The family needs to start seeking out resources to help their child,” she said. “If their child is struggling, if they’re not making friends in school, [if] they’re getting in trouble at school, we need to identify the root cause of that, because if we don’t, nine times out of ten, those types of behaviors escalate and they lead to drug use.”

“I think parents also need to educate themselves on the dangers of fentanyl specifically,” she said.

Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbot instructed state agencies to increase their efforts in the fight against fentanyl, as reported previously in The Dallas Express.

In a letter to agency heads, he said, “It has become clear that fentanyl is impacting individuals with and without substance use disorders. Unfortunately, most individuals who suffer a fentanyl-related death probably did not know they were ingesting the deadly drug. Many of those who were poisoned unwittingly ingested deadly counterfeits that appeared to be prescription drugs, which were acquired outside of the healthcare system.”

To confront this epidemic, he ordered agencies “to outline statutory changes, budget priorities, and other initiatives that will enhance the state’s ability to interdict this dangerous drug, provide emergency overdose treatment, and expand substance abuse treatment programs.”

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BillBurten
BillBurten
3 months ago

So going by the 2021 numbers we have had 600 fentanyl deaths in Texas since the Uvalde massacre killed 19.

And what’s the ratio of Uvalde to fentanyl stories that have run on the local legacy media outlets?

ed lopez
ed lopez
3 months ago

The war against Drugs starts at home ! Good parents don’t let their kids become drug addicts.
As long as the demand for drugs is there the cartels will supply them.

ed lopez
ed lopez
3 months ago

Spoiler