Montgomery County Public Schools and several community partners are sponsoring a substance use prevention workshop on Jan. 28. While overall drug overdoses in Montgomery County are down 21% since 2021, youth and adolescent overdoses increased by 78% in 2022, according to data from the Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit.
The workshop will provide families with free Narcan kits, training and resources. The Family Forum on Fentanyl & Life-Saving Narcan Training will be held virtually and in person at Clarksburg High School from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Montgomery Goes Purple is sponsoring the event, joined by MCPS and other community partners like EveryMind, Montgomery County Prevention Alliance and the MCCPTA Substance Use Prevention Committee.
School medical officer Patricia Kapunan recently released a video on the “unique and urgent problem” of fentanyl use in Montgomery County.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with 50 times the strength of heroin and up to 100 times the strength of morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Counterfeit prescription pills are often laced with it, so individuals may not even know they’re ingesting it.
Laura Mitchell, chair of the MCCPTA Substance Use Prevention Committee, told Bethesda Beat that other jurisdictions like Washington and Talbot counties have hosted similar events, but that this is the first time Montgomery County has seen such a coordinated countywide prevention-focused event outside of International Overdose Awareness Day in August.
There’s a lot of education and messaging still needed across the county to make sure students know there are resources available to prevent overdose, Mitchell said. She said the only way to successfully prevent overdoses is through “early, frequent, calm, frank discussions” about how easy it is to fall into substance use and how hard it is to climb out of it.
“It’s incredibly sad and incredibly avoidable,” Mitchell said of fatal overdoses. “You don’t have to have a substance use disorder to die from it. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Several local nonprofits are contributing to the event. Montgomery Goes Purple is a volunteer-based group that hosts an annual overdose awareness campaign during Recovery Month in September. EveryMind is a hub of mental health resources that offers counseling, case management and other support services to vulnerable communities.
At the event, a panel of medical experts will discuss topics related to substance use and behavioral health. Volunteers will distribute free Narcan kits (which contain a prescription medicine designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose) and provide training on their use.
The Community Opioid Prevention Education, or COPE, trailer will also be parked outside the school for families to tour. Designed by the Montgomery County Police Department to simulate a typical teenager’s bedroom, the trailer helps police teach parents how to identify common spots where a student may hide illegal drugs in the home.
The most common fentanyl-related overdoses involve counterfeit Oxycodone, Percocet and Xanax pills, MCPD data shows.
In January of last year, 16-year-old Walt Whitman student Landen Hausman was found dead in his family home after overdosing on a fentanyl-laced counterfeit Percocet pill. His parents said he first turned to drugs and alcohol in eighth grade to cope with mental health issues.
Police later arrested 23-year-old Silver Spring resident Mikiyas “Mick” Kefalew alleging he sold Hausman the drugs that killed him. As of September, Kefalew faces distribution-related charges in federal court and could serve life in prison if convicted. A trial date has not yet been listed, according to a U.S. District Court case manager.
Last month, MCPS issued an urgent message warning families of dangerous trends in fentanyl-related overdoses. In it, Kapunan said the use of fentanyl was involved in over 70% of all Montgomery County overdoses in 2021 — including fentanyl-laced substances and substances disguised as Percocet, Xanax or Adderall.
Kapunan also said the school district was working to develop new prevention strategies and initiatives like the Jan. 28 event to help combat substance use. Mitchell told Bethesda Beat the MCCPTA and Montgomery Goes Purple are working with DHHS Prevention and Harm Reduction Services to develop free parent and student group sessions that will serve as safe spaces for learning about prevention strategies.
Community members can register for the public forum via a QR code on the event flyer, available in English and Spanish. Residents can also receive free Narcan kits by calling DHHS Harm Reduction Services at 240-777-1836.