On Jan. 13, 2022, three 7th grade male students brought the drug fentanyl into school to ingest, unaware of the drugâ€™s lethal damages.
One of the unnamed 13-year-old boys at The Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, a magnet school in Hartford, Conn., tragically died on Jan. 15 after suffering a fentanyl overdose while at school. The situation is currently being investigated by local authorities as 40 bags of the drug were found on the school premises.
Connecticut governor Ned Lamont warned Hartford parents that itâ€™s important for them to actively remind their children of the dangers of drug use, explaining to them that drugs are a â€œgame of Russian Roulette and you always lose in a game of Russian Roulette.â€
Following the young studentâ€™s death, Hartford schools are planning to initiate bag checks and supply teachers with Narcan, a nasal spray narcotic that treats opioid overdoses.
Matt Jenkins, Executive Director of addiction treatment center CT Harm Reduction Alliance, agreed that it is important for school administrators to have access to Narcan.
â€œKids experiment,â€ says Jenkins. The proliferation of fentanyl and counterfeit pills is becoming a greater issue and itâ€™s imperative for schools and communities to prioritize educating youth on drug use.
Penn State psychology professor Karen Bierman told VALLEY that the two critical factors that determine if young students experiment with drugs are peer norms and parental monitoring. Adolescents are highly influenced by their peers, and seeing peers view drugs positively has the potential to shift their own perspective on drugs to a positive one.
On the other hand, parents monitoring their childrenâ€™s access to drugs and attitudes on substance abuse can foster a positive and protective parent-child relationship. Students without this parental relationship who also associate with peers who engage in drug use have free reign to have â€˜unsupervised free timeâ€™ and are at the â€˜greatest riskâ€™ for substance abuse issues.
Bierman explained that evidence-based prevention programs can alter students’ perspectives on drugs, dissuading them from drug use. â€œOne of the ways that evidence-based prevention programs work is by shifting student attitudes in ways that reduce the visibility or status of peers who espouse more positive attitudes toward substance use,â€ she said.
Schools can do a better job at administering evidence-based drug prevention education by starting early. â€œThese [programs] are most powerful when they start in early adolescence (middle school) and then continue in high school and college,â€ says Bierman.
Bierman also noted that Penn Stateâ€™s outreach program Prosper can serve as a good model for state universities. The program is heavily backed by tests and research and is partnered with schools and its local community to provide support and education. Having local and state government funding and support would ensure these programs thrive.
More information about Prosper can be found at www.prosper.psu.edu.
VALLEY sends support to the family and friends of the Hartford teen who tragically passed last Saturday. If youâ€™re a Penn State student struggling with substance abuse and seeking help, you can reach out to Penn Stateâ€™s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) or call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.