As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage Washington and the rest of the country, officials are considering new policies to curb youth overdoses and addiction.

Washington’s Department of Health is offering opioid overdose reversal medication, known as naloxone or Narcan, to every public high school in the state. Gov. Jay Inslee has asked the Legislature to pass a bill requiring education on opioids in schools. And at the request of Lake Washington High School students, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, has introduced a bill to require all public school districts to keep naloxone in high schools.

Washington has seen a dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths among young people, particularly due to fentanyl, a cheap and devastating drug.

According to the state Department of Health, rates of opioid-related fatalities among adolescents ages 14 to 18 surged almost threefold from 2016 to 2022. The agency says the increase can largely be attributed to fentanyl.

In 2022, at least 31 adolescents ages 10 to 17 and 157 people ages 18 to 24 died from an opioid overdose in Washington, according to Department of Health data. 

The state’s efforts are in line with an October 2023 letter from the U.S. Department of Education and the White House drug policy office that encouraged schools to educate students about the opioid epidemic and to keep naloxone on hand.

Nationwide, research finds that about 22 high school-aged adolescents died each week from overdoses in 2022, driven by fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription pills. Researchers say teens are often unaware of how likely it is for pills to be laced with fentanyl.

During a Thursday committee hearing, legislators heard emotional testimony in support of opioid education in schools from Maria Trujillo-Petty, who lost her 16-year-old son, Lucas Petty, to fentanyl poisoning in 2022.

“High school is the age that kids feel invincible,” said Trujillo-Petty, a mother of four. “It’s our job as parents and as educators to ensure that our youth is being properly educated and supported through this devastating epidemic.”

Read the full article about opioid epidemic in schools by Grace Deng at The 74.