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Arizona schools head announces task force to combat fentanyl

Holly Geyer, an addiction medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic, provides some details Tuesday of how a new program designed to deter kids from using fentanyl as well the increase the availability of overdose countermeasures in schools. With her is state schools chief Tom Horne.
Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer
Holly Geyer, an addiction medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic, provides some details Tuesday of how a new program designed to deter kids from using fentanyl as well the increase the availability of overdose countermeasures in schools. With her is state schools chief Tom Horne.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- State schools chief Tom Horne announced formation of a task force Tuesday designed to warn teens of the dangers of fentanyl.
But this one is designed to be different than the DARE program launched in the 1980s with the mission of keeping kids off drugs.
"When we look back at the DARE program, there were failures,'' said Dr. Holly Geyer, an addiction medicine specialists at Mayo Clinic.
"In fact, in a number of states that employed it, use of drugs went up,'' she said at a press conference launching what has been dubbed the School Training Overdose Preparedness and Intelligence Task Force, or STOP-IT. "And so that's a big concern.''
What that means, Geyer said, is going back and examining programs like that to determine what it included that actually resulted in increased interests by young people with trying drugs. And the problem, she said, was the message.
That, Geyer said, included an acknowledgment of the lure of the drugs like getting high and being more socially acceptable.
"But it might make your breath smell bad,'' she said was other part of the message. "Or you might get in trouble.''
What those programs did not emphasize is the toxicity of the drug, something that is front and center when dealing with drugs like fentanyl and methamphetaimes. Geyer compared them to a program in Montana she said resulted in a sharp reduction in meth use.
"They literally scared people,'' she said. "They said, 'it's not if, but when, these kind of problems happen to you.' ''
Geyer said that this task force will be coordinating with the Drug Enforcement Agency which has it own "One Pill Can Kill'' campaign.
Gibson acknowledged there has been a great deal of publicity already about the high rate of fatalities from fentanyl use.
But Gibson said she believes more can be done. And what that may have too include, she said, is a program that goes beyond adults telling kids that drugs aren't good for them.
"I don't know if it's been in all the social circles necessary to reach this population,'' Gibson said.
"When it comes to doctors or providers that we're trying to reach, Gen X and Z, they're not listening to us,'' she said. "They're going to social influencers.''
Gibson said the campaign may be trying to find those individuals and groups "that are in their world that can relay this message, and probably much more impactful than we can.''
The state program announced Tuesday also has a separate component designed to deal with situations where students do use fentanyl, either purposely or because they think it actually was some other drug. That is to have Narcan, the brand name of naloxone that reverses opioid overdoses, available in every school.
Only thing is, that's already allowed. And many school districts around the state already have the drug in stock.
But Horne said the program is designed to encourage more schools to participate by looking for ways to let them purchase the drug at a discount, perhaps $25 for a two-dose vial. But the Department of Education won't pick up the tab.
He said that is cheap enough so that districts can afford it out of their regular operating budgets. Horne said, though, state lawmakers are free to make an allocation.
There are about 2,000 school buildings across the state. But that $50,000 price tag assumes only a single dose available in each school, perhaps at a nurse's office, versus more widespread distribution in classrooms.
That part of the program includes training people how to administer Narcan. David Schad, an emergency management specialist at Terros Health, said that's part of where his organization fits in.
"To date we have conducted over 10,000 training sessions, including of hundreds of students and teachers,'' said Schad whose organization provides primary medical care, substance use treatments and counseling services.
"We believe everyone should have access and be able to be trained in the use of Narcan,'' he said. "We must think of it in the same way we think of CPR.''
That still leaves the question of whether a program crafted by the task force is going to be any more successful than other anti-drug efforts.
Horne said it comes down to the fact that, unlike most other drugs, fentanyl kills.
"And it kills rapidly in the case of an overdose,'' he said.
Then there are situations where people don't know they're taking fentanyl because it's been mixed in with other drugs.
"That's one of the tragedies is students will die without ever having made a decision to take fentanyl,'' Horne said.
One piece of the program, he said, is getting literature to students before the end of the school year.
Those actually will come not from the state but from the Sold Out Youth Foundation, a North Carolina nonprofit that produces online materials that schools can download to educate about fentanyl dangers as well as drug and alcohol abstinence education.
That still leaves the question of how any education program will keep kids from trying fentanyl, whether knowingly or because they have gotten a pill from someone else.
Gibson said it comes back to the toxicity and "recognizing that seven out of 10 fentanyl pills on the street have enough fentanyl to kill the average American adult.''
"Kids need to understand: This is lethal, this is deadly,'' she said. "There is no opportunity for experimentation in 2024.''


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