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Lightridge News

The student produced news site for Lightridge High School

Lightridge News

Lightridge News

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Virginia fights fentanyl epidemic

LCPS deals with 25 student overdoses in one year
Tre Holley
Virginia public schools are dealing with an unprecedented number of drug overdoses, as fentanyl becomes a larger and larger problem.

Since January of 2023, there have been 25 non-fatal student overdoses by fentanyl on LCPS campuses. Officials and administrators at the state, county, and local level have been working to effectively respond to the recent wave of overdoses.

“Right now, there’s a very bad batch of fentanyl that has made its way to northern Virginia,” said Dr. Ryan Hitchman, principal of Lightridge High School.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illegally made fentanyl. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed to patients by doctors as a painkiller for severe cases. Illegally made fentanyl is the cause for most of the fentanyl related overdoses in the United States. Drug dealers will mix illegal fentanyl with other drugs to make them cheaper and more powerful. Students often do not take fentanyl by itself. Instead they overdose on drugs, such as oxycodone, that are laced with fentanyl.

One anonymous Lightridge student said older family or friends are typically the way they gain access to drugs. Another student said they tend to buy drugs online, although dangerous opioids may be hard to gain access to on the internet.

Certain schools, such as Park View High School, have held assemblies, put up informational posters, and enforced stricter rules regarding bathroom usage in order to limit the use of fentanyl on school grounds.

“I always see students under the influence at school and during school hours,” said Giveily Chavarria-Buezoi, a sophomore at Park View. “I think Park View administration would have better results if they were to provide more resources for students who want to stop taking drugs rather than trying to prevent students from taking them in the first place.”

Although the first reports of illicit fentanyl in Virginia were in 2018, the steps to curb the sale of fentanyl began on May 9, 2023, when Governor Glenn Youngkin signed on a plan to battle the persisting fentanyl crisis in Virginia. Titled “Executive order 26,” or more commonly known as “REVIVE!” the plan aimed to make sure that Virginians are able to respond to an opioid overdose immediately.
“ REVIVE! training is offered to anyone interested in preventing and reducing opioid overdoses,” the Governor’s office said in a released statement at the time of the order, “and Virginia has worked to make naloxone readily available.”

After the release of this plan, which was to be effective immediately, naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan, became readily available in schools across Virginia. Naloxone is the prescription medication that reverses the effects of the overdose. At Lightridge some of the staff has been through training on how to use Narcan.

“We’ll have to use Narcan to hopefully try to save that student’s life. And this is not a guarantee that this is going to rescue you,” said Hitchman.

Park View had a total of nine fentanyl overdoses in fall of 2023. Eight of these overdoses occurred in the month of October. In response specifically to these overdoses, Youngkin issued an executive order on November 1, 2023 that would require schools to notify the community of student overdoses.

LCPS distributed informational posters focused on fentanyl to all of the schools in the district. (Tre Holley)

“Our Deptartment of Communication and Community Engagement and LCSO Communications have been working closely together to notify the community appropriately when a student overdose occurs,” said Katherine Evans, Director of LCPS Student Mental Health Services.
“Many teachers were told not to speak about it,” said Chavarria-Buezoi, in regards to the aftermath of the consecutive overdoses at Park View High School. “I understand not disclosing student and victim names but not allowing people who have witnessed an overdose to talk about it is a little much.”

Chavarria-Buezoi is a reporter for “The View,” the student news site for Park View High School. On December 19, 2023 Chavarria-Buezoi wrote an article concerning a meeting hosted by members of the community, LCSO, and staff from Park View, titled “Park View Hosts First Community Meeting about Fentanyl Crisis.”

The consecutive overdoses at Park View High School also sparked investigation from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO). The LCSO itself has had to deal with dangerous and high-risk fentanyl issues in Loudoun County. As recently as 2020 the department launched “Operation Angel Envy.” The operation resulted in the largest drug raid in Loudoun County history. The DEA seized 6.5 million dollars worth of drugs, guns, and cash connected to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

Although the drug bust was successful, it did little to stop the flow of drugs into Virginian schools. With the preconception that most of the drugs were being smuggled from Mexico, Youngkin issued Executive Order 4 on May 31, 2023, right after “REVIVE!”, that required the Virginia National Guard to be sent to the US-Mexico border to seize traffickers of illicit drugs as they come into the country. This operation was unsuccessful in its implementation.

“There’s a misconception that fentanyl is coming from Mexico,” said Hitchman. “There’s fentanyl coming from Canada, it’s coming in from everywhere.”

On March 8, 2024, the LCSO conducted its first search using drug sniffing dog at Broad Run High School. This initiative was spearheaded by Sheriff Mike Chapman, who also led Operation Angel Envy.

LCSO and LCPS have hosted joint awareness forums on fentanyl and other opioids. However, the most recent joint forum was held more than a year ago, on March 23, 2023, months before the onslaught of overdoses at schools like Park View. The LCPS/LCSO-sponsored forums for parents, teachers, and community members were hosted in many schools, such as Park View High School, Loudoun County High School, Independence High School, Woodgrove High School, and John Champe High School. Individual schools have held forums on the issue since then, but without LCSO collaboration.

“In previous years, LCPS and LCSO have provided vaping, substance use trends, and internet safety community awareness events,” said Evans. “Our LCPS Student Assistance Specialists provide prevention education presentations in middle and high school”

LCPS has also contracted “Care Solace,” an organization that does mental health coordination services for students, staff, and families, and with The Cook Center for Human Connection for free parent resources including coaching, therapy sessions, and one-on-one consultations.

“We need improved access to intensive outpatient services for those who need to use insurance, who have Medicaid, or are uninsured,” said Evans.

Intensive outpatient programs are structured treatment programs that take place without the patient having to be in the hospital. They usually are prescribed to patients with mental health or addiction issues. If recovery options are not made accessible to parents, no solution that LCPS offers will be viable for students. Most intensive outpatient programs are out of pocket expenses for parents, and most cannot afford it. This is one of the main reasons that most solutions provided by LCPS are not successful.

According to Evans, this issue has also been perpetuated by the role parents play in their child’s recovery process. Many parents do not believe that their child will abuse substances, and are not aware of what the current trend in substance usage is. Furthermore, the assumption that fentanyl is only abused by extreme addicts and not teenagers leads to further denial that the crisis exists.

“The biggest challenge is the lack of medication assisted therapy (MAT) for young adults and treatment options, both intensive outpatient and residential programs,” said Evans, when asked to explain her concerns regarding how the current Virginian government is dealing with the crisis.

The Virginia government has been consistently pressured to provide an adequate response to the fentanyl epidemic. Due to the perpetuation of the crisis, there has been criticism as to whether or not the government has made it their priority to stop the issue.
Hitchman also expressed concerns as to the role of the Virginia government in the fentanyl crisis.

“There are times during our conversations speaking with the DEA, where they want to bust these drugs, [but] they got told to stand down for various reasons,” he explained.

“In my opinion politicians don’t always do things that people are all going to agree on,” Hitchman continued. “They’re going to find a line, either you’re on this side or that side [of an issue]. I think that’s what some politicians do currently, instead of what’s for the good of everyone.”

There are times during our conversations speaking with the DEA, where they want to bust these drugs, [but] they got told to stand down for various reasons.

— Dr. Ryan Hitchman

Recent budget proposals made to Governor Youngkin have cut funding for school staff, such as resource officers. A resource officer is a law enforcement officer with arrest powers who operates primarily in a school setting.

With the fentanyl crisis reaching an all time peak in the 2023-2024 school year, it’s hard to see it ever stopping. However, Hitchman still has hope.

“You’re not always going to know if your message got through,” said Hitchman, “but we’ll continue to spread the message, because you don’t know who that one kid’s going to be. I can’t give up.”

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About the Contributors
Panchami Rangaraju
Panchami Rangaraju, Editor-in-Chief
Panchami Rangaraju is a sophomore. This is her second year on staff, and first year as Editor-in-Chief.
Tre Holley
Tre Holley, Photo Editor
Tre is a senior and a first year member of the Lightridge News staff. He is primarily interested in photojournalism.

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