The Fentanyl Crisis in Schools: Awareness, Education Part of Prevention Efforts

May 23, 2024

drawing of school surrounded by fentanyl

By Jaimie Seaton

Imagine if an entire classroom of students died—every single week.

It’s hard to overstate the horror. And, unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine it. An average of 22 adolescents (14 to 18 years old) died from drug overdoses in the U.S. each week in 2022. That makes drug overdoses and poisonings the third leading cause of pediatric deaths in the nation (behind gun injuries and motor vehicle accidents). And most of these deaths can be attributed to illicit fentanyl.

Fentanyl is now involved in at least 75% of adolescent overdose deaths. Worth noting is that 84% of these deaths are categorized as unintentional. That’s because fentanyl is often added to other illicit drugs, which makes them cheaper, more powerful, more addictive—and extremely dangerous.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health, characterizes the current opioid overdose crisis as the worst in U.S. history and among the gravest crises facing the nation. “Overdose rates are increasing across race/ethnicity and sex categories, and in all age groups, including among young people,” Volkow says.

While the deadly drug fueling this crisis doesn’t discriminate—it crosses all demographics and impacts every corner of this country—some regions and groups are hurting more than others. The New England Journal of Medicine found that from 2020 to 2022, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state had adolescent mortality rates nearly twice the national average, or higher.

Read the full story in the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine.