This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. to correct information shared by Councilmember Jawando about the number of recorded youth overdose deaths.
Five Montgomery County youths have died of overdoses so far this school year – nearly half the 11 recorded in all of 2022 and equal to the number recorded in 2021, according to data shared Monday by County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-Large).
Jawando warned students of the risks of fentanyl and discussed his focus on after-school programs and student mental health during a visit Monday morning to Northwood High School for the launch of his Education Listening Tour.
During a Q&A session in the packed auditorium, dozens of students peppered the chair of the council’s Education & Culture Committee with questions ranging from tough decision-making and equity issues to substance use and school safety.
The councilmember had a stern message to share with attendees about the use of fentanyl, something sparking recent countywide alarm due to a spike in youth overdoses.
“This fentanyl stuff is serious. Don’t take pills from anybody,” he told students. “You can try something one time, and you could die.”
On Saturday, hundreds of county residents gathered in the Clarksburg High School cafeteria for the first Family Forum on Fentanyl, which included a Q&A session with a panel of health and security experts as well as free Narcan kits and training. A second forum is being planned at Wheaton High School later this spring, according to Councilmember Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6).
Jawando said the Education & Culture Committee would be holding a joint hearing with the Public Safety Committee later in February to discuss a “countywide approach” to curbing youth substance use. He also noted that all five of the fatal January overdoses occurred at home and that mental health support is a key countermeasure to preventing such deaths.
There are two key issues Jawando is working to address as committee chair, he told students.
The first is funding after-school programs across Montgomery County Public Schools, something research demonstrates can have a strong positive effect on student health and development. The second is bolstering mental health support services in schools as a means of restorative justice, he said.
“We have to try to nip things in the bud before they escalate,” he told students, adding that the biggest way students can help is to report to staff whenever they suspect conflict might be bubbling.
Jawando said he plans to visit an elementary, middle and high school campus in each of the 25 MCPS clusters over the next two years. Councilmembers Gabe Albornoz (D-At-Large) and Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) also serve on the E&C Committee.