Opioid Resources

Fighting Fentanyl: Schools Tackle Opioid Crisis Head-On

K-12 Dive - October 26, 2022


When two 8th grade students died within days of each other in 2016 after using synthetic opioids, the Park City School District in Utah went into full crisis response mode. 

Grief counselors came to the students’ middle school. Parents were asked to search their children’s possessions. Area emergency room doctors were warned to look for signs of drug abuse or attempted suicide in teen patients. District and school staff were asked to comfort each other through their grief.

Six years later, the deaths of the young students are still raw, said then-Superintendent Ember Conley.

“All of us that went through that, it changed us forever,” said Conley, who left the superintendency and is now an education consultant, as well as a local politics and policy television host in Park City. The opioid crisis has plagued the nation for the last three decades and will likely impact the education system for years to come. It knows no boundaries as it affects the rich and poor, the young and old, and communities and households in rural, suburban and urban locations. 

But even as localities have repeatedly responded to the tragic and heartbreaking loss of lives from overdoses, promising developments have emerged. 

Community organizations, local governments and schools are banding together to respond to increasing rates of overdoses, communicate the dangers of opioids and erase the stigma of substance abuse treatment. Meanwhile in classrooms, educators are using social-emotional learning to strengthen students’ self-reliance, coping skills and positive relationships so they are empowered to reject offers of drugs and alcohol and to seek help when they need it. 

And in general, schools are taking more trauma-informed approaches of restorative practices, therapy, wraparound services, and treatment — moving away from punitive measures against students suffering with addiction or struggling academically and behaviorally because of addiction in their families. 

While these strategies are giving communities hope and, some say, even making a positive difference in teen substance avoidance, there are startling dangers that seem to mock any efforts at progress.

'Made to Look Like Candy'

The urgent concern is illegal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that dealers are targeting to youth — some who have never used substances or have no idea they are taking something so deadly. 

In late August, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning about brightly colored fentanyl pills in the U.S. after seizing the pills in 26 states. 


“Dubbed ‘rainbow fentanyl’ in the media, this trend appears to be a new method used by drug cartels to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people,” the DEA warning said. Some say these pills resemble Smarties candy. 

The colorful fentanyl is being seized in multiple forms, including pills, powder and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk. Every color, shape and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous, the warning said. Fentanyl, developed as a pain treatment for cancer and still prescribed legally for this purpose, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.


Additionally, according to the DEA, drug networks in Mexico are mass producing fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake prescription look-alike pills, using chemicals sourced largely from China. These fake pills are designed to appear identical to legitimate prescriptions — such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax and other medicines — and have been found in every state in the country.

These pills contain inconsistent amounts of fentanyl that can be deadly. The DEA said just 2 milligrams of fentanyl, or the amount that could fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially lethal dose. What’s more, 42% of pills tested contained at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl.

And because fentanyl can be masked within what looks like legitimate pills, many young people may assume what they are taking is not that dangerous, according to law enforcement officials and substance abuse experts. Fentanyl is also being mixed with other illicit drugs like heroin, as well as in vape pens.

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Where can I get trained to respond to an overdose?

(Wyoming Department of Health) - Posted July 2021

Training first responders (firefighters, police officers, and EMTs) and bystanders (family, friends, and others) on recognizing and responding to an opioid overdose is essential. Anyone who uses heroin or opioid medication, especially those who have never used or have not used in a while, can be at risk of an overdose. Find out how you can save a life.

How can I get naloxone?

Naloxone is a prescription medication. However, a Wyoming law (Wyoming §§ 35-4-901 through 35-5-906) allows pharmacists to prescribe naloxone to individuals. Anyone can go to a local pharmacy and ask about obtaining naloxone.

First responders may apply to receive grant funding for Narcan® Nasal Spray, currently the only FDA-approved intranasal naloxone. Agencies must obtain a standing order (a prescription from a provider for a group, not an individual) to purchase naloxone. For more information on obtaining a standing order, contact a local medical provider.

To get Narcan® Nasal Spray for your agency or organization through the Wyoming Department of Health, complete the application form. Once your application has been reviewed and funding is available, you will be contacted for more information.

Naloxone Policies and Procedures

The following information is for the administration of Naloxone (NARCAN) in Wyoming as well as other departments around the nation.

Wyoming Policy and Procedure

Norwood Police Department, Massachusetts Policy and Procedure

Kingman Police Department, Arizona Policy and Procedure

What are opioids?

Opioids include three categories of pain-relieving drugs: (1) natural opioids (also called opiates) which are derived from the opium poppy, such as morphine and codeine; (2) semi-synthetic opioids, such as the prescription drugs hydrocodone and oxycodone and the illicit drug heroin; (3) synthetic opioids, such as methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl analogues, such as carfentanil, can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Overdose deaths from fentanyl have greatly increased since 2013 with the introduction of illicitly-manufactured fentanyl entering the drug supply [CDC 2016b; CDC 2018b]. The National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA 2018] has more information about types of opioids.

                                                                               - Centers for Disease Control 


What is the opioid epidemic?

From 1999–2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.

This rise in opioid overdose deaths can be outlined in three distinct waves.

  1. The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999.

  2. The second wave began in 2010, with rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin

  3. The third wave began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl. The market for illicitly manufactured fentanyl continues to change, and it can be found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.

                                                                                       - Centers for Disease Control

Can an opioid overdose be reversed?

An opioid overdose can be reversed with the drug naloxone when given right away. Improvements have been seen in some regions of the country in the form of decreasing availability of prescription opioid pain relievers and decreasing misuse among the Nation’s teens. However, since 2007, overdose deaths related to heroin have been increasing. Fortunately, effective medications exist to treat opioid use disorders including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

A NIDA study found that once treatment is initiated, both a buprenorphine/naloxone combination and an extended release naltrexone formulation are similarly effective in treating opioid addiction. However, naltrexone requires full detoxification, so initiating treatment among active users was more difficult. These medications help many people recover from opioid addiction.

                                                                                                           - National Institute on Drug Abuse