Upcoming fentanyl assembly aims at prevention in student body

Multiple organizations rally to spread awareness and safety skills to Lawrence High in February 16th school wide assembly

By Finn Lotton-Barker, Editor-in-Chief

As the United States faces an alarming increase in fentanyl-related overdoses, Lawrence High community members are drawing attention to the issue’s lethality, proximity, and prevalence.

“Engage Douglas County” will lead an assembly Thursday, Feb. 16, to address the issue by spreading awareness.

The main issue comes from the consumption of drugs laced with, contaminated with, and cut with fentanyl, a substance that even in small amounts can be lethal. According to the DEA, more than 600 overdose deaths in the state of Kansas were reported in 2021 from January to September. In addition, more than 10,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills were recently seized in Kansas City, Kansas.

After the deaths of community members, including recent LHS alumni, Lawrence High has teamed up with organizations to combat overdose deaths. Lawrence High associate principal Mark Preut described the problems facing the student body. 

“Fentanyl has been around for a while, but it has really impacted the community more recently,” Preut said. “There is definitely a lack of knowledge and misinformation out there, and sadly people are dying because of it.”

Preut says one of the hardest things to track for our own students is data. Fewer than 5% of parents consented to the “Communities that Care Survey,” which asked questions concerning drug use, causing LHS to no longer be offering it. A change in state law last year made it more difficult for schools to survey students, meaning administrators will have a harder time making conclusions about the needs of the student body.

“It means we don’t have as complete a picture of Douglas County,” Preut said. “Schools around us that have higher participation rates have more full data.”

Preut is also part of Engage Douglas County, a muli-agency group focused on prevention and safety, through which he learned more about the problem fentanyl poses in Lawrence. By regularly hearing about the problems healthcare workers and law enforcement have faced, Preut gained new insight into fentanyl’s risk.

“I knew that the Lawrence Police Department is dealing with it on an almost daily basis,” Preut said. “People being in a tough spot because of it.”

Lawrence police officer and LHS resource officer Amaury Collado shares the concerns. Collado, also working as part of “Engage Douglas County,” is well aware of the problems facing today’s youth.

“The problem with teenagers is low impulse control,” Collado said. “A lot of times kids will be taking things with no idea of the risks.”

Collado said an integral part of saving lives is giving extra attention to how we respond to issues. By being, more equipped with tools like naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids, students can be safer. First responders often carry naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, the device in which the medication is administered

“I have one dose with me at all times,” Collado said. “The goal is to have that available, at the very least, at the high and middle schools, and have the nurses have access to that.”

The entire movement toward increased prevention awareness comes after the deaths of multiple Lawrence High alumni. Photography teacher Angela Perkins gained a new perspective on the threat of fentanyl after losing a former student to overdose in early January. 

“The shock of that particular moment was so overwhelming,” Perkins said. “Somebody that was just so nice and kind to everybody, and I mean, I guess that doesn’t make them invincible, but it does make it harder to grasp.”

Perkins, after learning that the student died from fentanyl, began to seize the full weight of the crisis. When she learned about the upcoming assembly, she was optimistic about the impact it could have. 

“They’re bringing in law enforcement, they’re bringing in healthcare individuals, they’re bringing in police officers,” Perkins said. “I think by making students understand the real risk, people will be safer.”

Preut hopes that increased awareness and preventative behaviors are supported by the assembly on Feb. 16. To him, making students informed, makes them all the safer.

“I think people believe that fentanyl is out there, mostly in bigger cities on the east and west coast,” Preut said. “It’s here in Lawrence, and students need to be aware of the danger.”