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After fatal overdose, substance abuse-related dispatches to Arlington schools continue

Wakefield High School this morning (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Police and medics have been dispatched to Wakefield High School at least twice for students experiencing suspected substance abuse-related issues since Tuesday’s fatal overdose.

The dispatches seem to point to administrators taking an extra-cautious approach to the medical treatment of students observed to be under the likely influence of drugs and alcohol in schools.

Arlington County police and medics were dispatched around lunchtime today for what was initially described as a possible overdose. The dispatch suggested that a 14-year-old student was breathing normally but exhibiting signs of impairment.

“At approximately 12:10 p.m. on February 6, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of a possible overdose,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow. “The preliminary investigation indicates this is a possession of alcohol by minor incident. The patient did not require transport to the hospital. The investigation ongoing.”

“They had to call EMS out of an abundance of caution,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Medics were also dispatched to the school during dismissal this past Thursday, following an extended lockdown for a potentially armed trespasser, for what was initially feared to be a student overdose.

“At approximately 3:23 p.m. on February 2, police responded to Wakefield High School for the report of an overdose,” said Savage. “The investigation determined this was not an overdose incident, but it did involve possession of a suspected controlled substance by a juvenile.  Petitions for a narcotics violation were obtained for the juvenile. In accordance with Virginia Code, additional details are not releasable due to the juvenile’s age.”

It’s not just Wakefield and not just high schools that are experiencing drug-related issues in Arlington. Around the same time as today’s incident, police were dispatched to Kenmore Middle School for a report that administrators had discovered possible drug paraphernalia.

Parent groups have been sounding the alarm about drug use in Arlington Public Schools for at least a year. A twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health issues have led to the deaths of at least three APS students since Christmas. Parents marched outside Wakefield and spoke out at the School Board meeting last week following the death of the 14-year-old student who suffered the apparent overdose on Tuesday.

Wakefield principal Chris Willmore told WJLA that it’s unclear whether drugs in general are being used more often by students, but said that the nature of the drugs being used has changed.

“I don’t know if it’s gotten worse in terms of the number of kids that are using illicit drugs,” Willmore said in an article published by the station today. “It’s the deadliness of the fentanyl now that’s the most concerning.”

The national epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths has been blamed, at least in part, on accidental overdoses stemming from the powerful synthetic opioid being added to fake prescription drugs. Users believe they’re taking oxycodone or even the focus-enhancing drug Adderall but instead get a crudely-made counterfeit containing a fatal dosage of fentanyl.

WJLA’s article noted that Arlington police have no plans for sweeps of schools using drug-sniffing dogs.

Arlington County police say they are actively reaching out to and engaging with the younger population, building relationships, and that there’s a youth outreach unit.

When 7News asked if narcotics-trained K9s might be searching the schools for fentanyl, a spokesperson said the county does have these K9s available but there are no plans to use them at schools.

An email sent by Willmore to Wakefield families after this afternoon’s emergency response is below.

Dear Warriors Family:

I am writing to inform you that a Wakefield student was treated by EMS and transported to the hospital out of an abundance of caution this morning due to apparent alcohol consumption.

Our staff took immediate action and called for medical assistance. School officials are in contact with the family of the student. There is no cause for concern for the greater Wakefield community.

If you have concerns about your student, please contact their school counselor, a school psychologist or a school social worker. The safety and well-being of our students and staff remain our highest [priority].

Sincerely,

Chris Willmore
Principal

Also this afternoon, the following email was sent to all APS families.

Dear Families,

This is a very difficult time for our schools and community as we work to address the increasing use of opioids, and specifically fentanyl, affecting our youth. Our hearts are with all the families directly affected. Combating this issue requires a community-wide response including at home, in school, and in public. As a community we must stay vigilant and well-informed, and work together.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid which is often added to other drugs that look like something else, and even the smallest dose–a single pill–can be fatal. Arlington Public Schools has many efforts in place to combat the opioid crisis through ongoing education, counseling and prevention, and we are taking several immediate steps to strengthen and support our existing programming, in partnership with the County and community partners.

  • APS Community Conversations on Substance Abuse and Opioids are being planned in February and March to provide staff and families with the tools needed to recognize warning signs and start conversations with students. Dates and times will be released in the coming weeks.
  • APS has Naloxone (also known as NARCAN®) Nasal Spray available at every middle and high school, with personnel in each school trained to administer this treatment. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, and APS is working to increase the supply of Naloxone in each school.
  • Naloxone Nasal Spray, and training for using it, is available for FREE through Arlington County. There are two upcoming classes in February, focused on recognizing the signs of opioid use, addiction, overdose, and how to respond using Naloxone. Additional information can be found the Arlington County website.

If you have concerns about someone you believe may be using opioids and needs help, please contact your school counselor or a substance abuse counselor. In an emergency, dial 911 and use the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text to 741741 for free 24/7 support. Visit our In Crisis/Need Help Now Page for a full list of resources.

Here is additional information about fentanyl, APS substance abuse prevention efforts and opioid action plan, as well as resources for families.

The Arlington School Board will also hold a work session on Tue, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. on the topic of Opioids and Substance Use in APS: Education and Prevention.  The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast. Visit our page on School Board Work Sessions for more information.

Thank you for your partnership and support.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán

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