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Wake-up call: Teen ODs in classroom; the fentanyl crisis is in your child’s classroom
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

There are a minimum of four Narcan doses at all Manteca Unified high school campuses.

Staff who have volunteered to do so, have been trained to administer Narcan.

The available doses are monitored by Health Services in terms of expiration dates, where they are located, and the people trained to use them.

The process mirrors those in place in the school district regarding EpiPens that are used when someone has a severe allergic reaction.

You are reading this as a follow up to events that unfolded in a classroom last week at Sierra High in Manteca.

Credit it to the crisis most of us ignore— the proliferation of fentanyl that is everywhere.

A student overdosed.

Given privacy concerns, we do not know how severe the overdose was.

Any overdose by the medical explanation of what happens is extremely serious.

At the minimum it can lead to severe health complications.

At worst, the overdose can be one that adds to the body bag count.

On any given day, 184 people in this country die from overdoses.

Experts say more than half of them are unintentional.

And a huge number involve teens.

That’s thanks to fentanyl.

It has changed the profile of a typical overdose victim from someone who has been strung out for years and looks what many of us perceive an addict to those that could pass as the 2023 version of an All American boy or girl.

Teens, who have a tendency to think they are invincible, dabble with fentanyl.

One pill is all it takes.

The fact Manteca Unified had the foresight to have Narcan on high school campuses and trained staff who volunteered to learn how to use it is why a teen didn’t die Monday.

Besides the inevitable “oh my God” buzz on social media plus the posting of the prerequisite cellphone videos students took as the incident unfolded and posted promptly to the Internet, there have been two small but not inconsequential rumblings coming from the bowels of cyberspace.

These are predictable.

One evolves around the district supposedly somehow encouraging the use of drugs by having Narcan on campuses.

The other is that the district is doing a lousy job keeping drugs off campus.

Both general comments are short-sighted.

In the year 2023, with a raging fentanyl crisis sweeping the country with 67,325 deaths in 2021 with alarmingly high number of teens among the count, it would have been irresponsible for a school district not to be prepared.

Fentanyl use is out there among teens.

It’s not taking place in alleys, opium dens, or even just “drug parties.”

It is prevalent and easy to conceal.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Manteca Unified, with 25,000 students including 9,000 plus of high school age, is likely to have to face an overdose situation.

Rest assured it probably has happened before last week in  classroom filled with teens armed with smartphones.

It became a very public overdose.

Not that anyone should take great comfort in the fact, but teachers in both Stockton and Modesto have indicated such medical emergencies triggered by fentanyl happen at least once a month at some campuses.

And in both cases, the teachers sharing the information are staff at the highest performing academic schools in their respective districts.

Any rational person even doing a little bit of reading on fentanyl would understand the Russian roulette factor is much higher with the opioid in terms of fatal overdoses for a number of factors.

By now, most of us who are adults should understand that the human brain matures to the point of impulse control being in place after an average of 25 years.

Some brains mature sooner such as in the teen years, while research shows some brains don’t finally develop what is needed for impulse control until 30 years or so.

It is clear the majority of teens likely don’t have impulse control in place — call it rational thinking  — during a time of life when they are trying to figure out who they and working on figuring the world out.

Rest assured such a mind doesn’t rationalize “the school has Narcan available so it makes sense to use fentanyl on campus in case something goes wrong.”

It’s more like “nothing is going to happen to me, I’m invincible.”

Manteca Unified is being pragmatic with its approach to the problem.

Too often people use the ostrich approach.

And let’s be clear.

This is nothing new.

What is new, however, is the level of realism being practiced today in many school districts like Manteca Unified that are quietly doing what they can to deal with the crisis.

It’s a far cry from the 1970s when those in the suburbs or small towns thought drug use was a problem in big cities.

Perhaps the worse example is a phenomenon that schools in small towns in counties surrounding Sacramento experienced in the mid-1970s.

It was when areas such as Orange County saw housing prices explode.

It provided a means for families with older children where the parents viewed them at risk to escape the Los Angeles Basin, move to the Sacramento area and buy “ranchettes” with five or so acres in cash, and have enough money left over to take two or three months to find a job.

They would be thrilled when their sons and daughters would “go country” adopting the dress and look of farm kids.

So what, if their teen kids drank. At least it wasn’t drugs.

Guess again.

Many were doing drugs even though they wore Levi’s, cowboy boots, or baseball caps.

The assumption, or course, was they weren’t doing drugs because they didn’t look like “druggies” or — remember it was the 1970s — hippies.

Teen boys with short hair and not long hair and teen girls who didn’t dress like flower children didn’t do drugs, right?

As strange as it might sound, fentanyl is often seen through the same rose-colored glasses when it comes to making assumptions who is at risk.

Stories are a dime a dozen of how “good kids” — a subjective term if there ever was one — who parents and others never thought in a million years would take fentanyl, end up doing so.

The ones you hear about are the jarring ones.

It was the first time they took fentanyl and they ended up overdosing and dying.

Or they got hooked on opioids and end up wasting their life away and eventually suffered a fatal overdose.

Perhaps last week’s close call will end up being parlayed into a wakeup call for all of us.

Fentanyl is a serious problem everywhere — Manteca, Modesto and even Turlock.

It’s time that we acted like it is.

And that means having frank and public discussions and stepping up efforts to turn the spigot off as much as reasonably can be done.

What is not needed is a debate over whether Narcan at high schools makes sense or trying to blame the schools for a problem they did not create when they take steps to avoid the fentanyl crisis from taking a life on a school campus.

All it takes is one mistake to change the course of — or end — a teen life.

We don’t need to make the mistake of villainizing schools that are dealing not with public relations but the real world to the point we browbeat them into a mistake and not have Narcan doses available.