Forever 15: What are the schools doing? – PART 2
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
What preventative interventions are in place at Claremont Unified School District for students who are actively using, or are curious about using, fentanyl, the massively potent synthetic opioid suspected to be responsible for the June 1 death of rising Claremont High sophomore Chloe Kreutzer?
Unfortunately, not many.
The district has for many years hosted a high-profile yearly drunk driving prevention program, Every 15 Minutes.
That event, which features a dramatic reenactment of the immediate aftermath of a drunk driving accident, is funded by a grant from the California Highway Patrol.
But drunk driving isn’t killing Claremont teens at any kind of clip comparable to opioid overdose deaths, which number from five to nine over the past five years, according to reports from peers, respected area drug counselors and other sources.
The focus of the district’s Teen Talk curriculum, which was developed prior to 2018 for kids in grades nine through 12, is to “increase knowledge and decision making capacity about all methods of” sexually transmitted infections “and pregnancy prevention,” among other goals, including making healthy choices when it comes to sex, consent and relationships. All excellent intentions, but Teen Talk makes no mention of opioids.
Claremont Unified School District also guides high school students through its federally funded Tobacco Use Prevention Education program. That curriculum includes a section on addiction, and does briefly mention opioids, according to CUSD’s Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, Kevin Ward.
“That’s one of the areas that we could look at, how that curriculum helps address this topic and how we could better reach kids,” said Mr. Ward.
Claremont High Principal Brett O’Connor has his doubts about the claim from several of the students the COURIER interviewed for this story that opioids and other drugs are pervasive on his campus.
“Up to now, when we have brought students down the office for drug issues and have found drugs on them, we do call Claremont PD when we need to,” said Mr. O’Connor. “We don’t call [CPD] on all possessions, because one of the things we want to do is get these kids in a program, but we have not had a confirmed [instance] where we have found a pill laced with fentanyl. When we find pills, we normally do call Claremont PD to see what kind of pills they are. So, I’m not saying it’s not available on campus. I’m hearing your quote from one specific student that it’s available in every restroom, every day, and Mick, I would think if that was true we would have some cases where we would find some of these illicit drugs on campus.”
To be perfectly clear, each of the CUSD administrators the COURIER spoke to for this story: newly minted Superintendent Jeff Wilson, Mr. O’Connor, and Mr. Ward, agreed: The district takes the fentanyl/opioid overdose crisis seriously, and it is determined to make modifications to its curriculum to help students make safer decisions.
The will is there, and that’s good news for parents of kids who are in danger, which is to say all of them.
But with the fentanyl/opioids issue developing so rapidly, especially over this past year, which saw a record number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States, is CUSD reacting swiftly enough?
“Not to dispute it, I would just challenge that we’re behind the curve because this is such a recent development as far as actually identifying where these synthetics are coming from,” Mr. Wilson said. “One of the things that was interesting, and this kind of became a problem on the east coast before here, and just in the last year or so the western states have been hit really hard with some of this going on. I think law enforcement’s trying to wrap their heads around it. I’ve been online looking at a couple school districts that have addressed this through teen programs. I think Beaverton School District in Oregon’s one of those. So we’re looking at all sort of resources right now and how to sort of update and be on track with this.
“I can tell you moving forward from my perspective as superintendent, that we will be seeking to educate students, and those who are friends and acquaintances of students who they know are using drugs. I think one of the interesting things that you noted is you heard from so many of these friends. So I think as educators one of our jobs it to equip those who know these kids to be a support and perhaps even intervene on their behalf to help save their lives.”
Stop the bleeding
Some say rather than focusing solely on prevention, it would be more effective at this point to simply concentrate on stopping the bleeding.
To that end, an affordable or even free opioid overdose reversal drug, Narcan, is available at several locations in and around Claremont.
The lifesaving drug can be administered intravenously or through an outrageously expensive ($2,500 per dose) “epi pen”-like mechanism. But the cheapest, most readily available delivery method is through an easily dispensed nasal spray.
It takes just 20 minutes to learn how to administer Narcan, according to Claremont resident Bob Forrest, a renowned drug recovery counselor.
Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center offers Narcan free of charge, without a doctor’s order, to minors and adults, 24-hours-day, every day, in its emergency room.
Claremont Village mainstay Hendricks Pharmacy stocks Narcan and takes all insurance plans but Kaiser.
“Narcan is a very effective and quick product,” said Brian Garner said, owner/pharmacist at Hendricks. “If parents are concerned about their teenagers, they should definitely have Narcan available.”
The CVS location on Foothill Blvd. and Towne Ave. also offers Narcan, available with or without a doctor’s order.
Why no Narcan?
Claremont Unified School District has five licensed therapists on staff, 15 master’s level interns, and seven high school counselors at CHS alone. Its emotional support system is admittedly first rate.
But it also has zero doses of Narcan available on any of its 11 campuses.
Though thankfully it hasn’t happened yet, in the event of an opioid overdose on campus, CHS would call the Claremont Police Department, Mr. O’Connor said.
“One of the things that they have done and communicated with us is every officer on patrol does have Narcan available if we have a student in the office who is unconscious and we believe [an opioid overdose] may be the cause,” he said. “We haven’t had to call them for that. But that is one thing that we do know is a step that has been taken in case on a campus we do have a student who is exhibiting symptoms of getting something laced with fentanyl. If there is a call for service, where we have a student, that is available for the police to administer. And their response times for police are very quick.”
The COURIER reached out to the Claremont Police Department half a dozen times with the hope of including law enforcement’s voice in this story, but did not receive a returned phone call.
While true no student has yet experienced an opioid overdose on a CUSD campus, one would think with the ongoing surge in use among teens, coupled with easy availability, it may be only a matter of time until that terrible day arrives.
With zero doses of Narcan on CUSD campuses, it would seem despite the earnest, genuine concern demonstrated from all representatives interviewed for this story, the district may be allowing itself to be perceived as not taking the opioid crisis seriously.
So why isn’t this inexpensive, lifesaving drug available to CUSD students?
“My understanding is we would have to look at policy as well, and what kind of training, perhaps certification, we’d have to look at for our health support staff,” Mr. Wilson said. “It should be simple though.”
Mr. O’Connor agreed. “That is not a bad idea, and I know the district is looking at a lot of different options, that probably being one of them,” he said.
Mr. Forrest is a firsthand witness to the scorched earth ravages among young people wrought by fentanyl. Over the past 20 years he’s counseled hundreds of young addicts, with the past five years dominated by the fentanyl explosion.
To stave off overdose deaths of young people on school campuses, he says school districts should train staff to administer Narcan, and the opioid overdose reversal drug should be as common as another preventative fixture on all school campuses in the country: the ubiquitous fire extinguisher.
“Governor [Chris] Christie, he had this great idea that he wanted Narcan added into the fire extinguishers, just in New Jersey,” said Mr. Forrest,. “And he couldn’t get it done. It’s the leading cause of death of millennials, not fire. We need to have Narcan available at the schools. We need to have every teacher, janitor, librarian certified that they know how to administer Narcan. That says the community is serious about addressing the problem.
“Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”