A Washington-Liberty High School senior was killed in a double homicide yesterday in Fairfax County.
Braden Deahl, 18, was a standout soccer player on the W-L varsity team who had committed to play at St. Mary’s College of Maryland earlier this month, according to an athletics website.
Deahl’s death was announced in an email to W-L families this afternoon.
“It is with great sadness that I inform you that one of our seniors, Braden Deahl, died on Monday,” wrote principal Tony Hall. “Braden was a beloved member of the Washington-Liberty family, and impacted the lives of many of our students and staff members. He brought much joy to all who knew him, especially his soccer teammates and fellow 12th graders. We all deeply feel his loss.”
Shortly thereafter, Fairfax County police announced that Deahl was one of two young men killed at an apartment complex near Tysons on Memorial Day.
“On May 29, 2023 at 3:37 p.m., officers responded to an apartment building in the 2200 block of Pimmit Run Lane in Falls Church for a man who had been shot. Jonas Skinner, 20, of Ashburn, was found in the laundry room of the apartment building with a gunshot wound to the upper body,” wrote FCPD. “Officers found three additional individuals in the parking lot suffering from stab wounds to their upper body. Braden Deahl, 18, of Arlington County, was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased.”
The other two stabbing victims are expected to survive, though one remains in the hospital.
In a press release, below, FCPD said the killings appear to have been drug-related. A teenager has been arrested and charged with robbery resulting in death.
Detectives believe a drug related robbery led to the fatal shooting of one man and the fatal stabbing of another. Police have charged one juvenile in connection to this crime and anticipate more updates to follow.
On May 29, 2023 at 3:37 p.m., officers responded to an apartment building in the 2200 block of Pimmit Run Lane in Falls Church for a man who had been shot. Jonas Skinner, 20, of Ashburn, was found in the laundry room of the apartment building with a gunshot wound to the upper body. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue personnel declared Skinner deceased at the scene.
Officers found three additional individuals in the parking lot suffering from stab wounds to their upper body. Braden Deahl, 18, of Arlington County, was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased. The other two victims were taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for injuries not believed to be life threatening. One of the juveniles remains hospitalized.
During a search of the area, K9 officers located a significant amount of marijuana nearby believed to be connected to the homicide. All individuals involved are believed to be known to each other and this is not a random act of violence.
Earlier today, a 17-year-old was charged with robbery resulting in death.
Police anticipate more announcements in this case.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death in the coming days.
Deahl is at least the second Arlingtonian to be murdered outside of the county’s borders so far this year. A Yorktown High School grad was killed in a D.C. hotel room in April.
The full letter from Hall to Washington-Liberty families is below.
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Today is the first day high school-aged Arlington Public Schools students can carry naloxone in schools.
Students in grades 9 and above can now carry the opioid reversal drug if they have consent from a parent or guardian, according to the school system. Those who are at least 18 years old can also provide consent if they wish.
The policy change comes four months after the fatal overdose of a 14-year-old at Wakefield High School in January. The death of Sergio Flores has led to calls for changes at APS by teachers, parents and School Board members — including a push to have more naloxone in schools and to let kids carry it.
Any student who carries the overdose-reversing drug — the most well-known brand of which is the nasal spray Narcan — must provide the day they were trained and agree to call 911 and notify school staff if used in school or at a school activity, per a presentation to the School Board last night (Thursday).
Consent may be provided through an online authorization form or via the family portal ParentVue, an option APS says will be available by the end of the day today.
Students who need training may attend training hosted by Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative on Thursday, June 1 at Washington-Liberty High School from 7-8 p.m. Another training session is planned for the week of June 5.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) came to Arlington today to discuss substance use and the fentanyl crisis. He participated in a roundtable at National Capital Treatment and Recovery (521 N. Quincy Street), an addiction treatment center in the Ballston area.
This facility is preparing to resume offering options for teens seven years after ending its youth programs. Those services will begin June 5, a spokesman for the center told ARLnow Friday afternoon.
Consumption of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid that can be prescribed or taken illegally — contributed to the deaths of nearly 2,000 Virginians in 2022, per a press release announcing Kaine’s visit.
While the number of fatal, fentanyl-involved overdoses in Arlington was not readily available, as of last Thursday, there have been seven fatal overdoses so far in 2023, according to publicly available county data.
This year there have been a total of 61 opioid incidents, of which 22 were overdoses and the rest were possession and distribution cases, according to county data.
As fentanyl-related deaths have risen, the federal government has responded with calls for de-stigmatizing addiction and for increased access to naloxone. Two months ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the-counter version of the nasal spray Narcan.
Arlington County, meanwhile, has joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies linked to the opioid crisis, putting settlements toward treatment. It reexamined its teen programming to provide youth and young adults with more positive experiences and steer them away from drug use.
Last week, Kaine introduced legislation with Joni Ernst, a Republican senator from Iowa, to declare fentanyl trafficking a national security threat and direct the Pentagon to work with other federal agencies and Mexican officials to tackle drug trafficking by transnational criminal organizations, the release said.
Kaine says he is also pressing the federal government to dedicate more resources to the crisis and ease access buprenorphine, which, like methadone, is used in addiction therapy to replace the effects of a stronger substances.
Additionally, the senator joined other lawmakers in asking Meta — which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — to address drug trafficking on its platforms.
When Arlington firefighters respond to drug overdoses, they could soon start bringing along enough doses of an opioid-reversal drug to leave some behind.
This is part of a statewide effort “to prevent fatal overdoses and increase community access” to the nasal spray Narcan, one form of the reversal drug called naloxone.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Virginia Dept. of Health to get more state-provided Narcan into the hands of the public.
Through the Narcan “Leave Behind” Program, VDH has authorized EMS personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, school nurses and others to give Narcan doses to overdose witnesses, as well as to the family and friends of people who use drugs.
The infusion of Narcan is part of national, state and local a focus on reducing harm to drug users. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved Narcan for over-the-counter use.
Some advocates worried this would not do enough to bring the price of Narcan down. Others criticized the FDA for prioritizing the more costly nasal spray over the less-expensive generic version that is injected and said government-led, pharmacy-based distribution efforts do not reach the people who need it.
That is where the distribution of Narcan at the scene of an overdose could be effective, coupled with other harm reduction efforts led by Arlington’s Addiction Recovery Initiative, including fentanyl test strip and medicine deactivation bag distribution.
Higher-ups in the Arlington County Dept. of Human Services previously connected these efforts to a drop in fatal overdoses since 2021.
There are also new opportunities to learn how to administer the overdose reversal drug, which operates similar to a nasal spray.
Community members can get trained in using naloxone on June 7 at noon and 7 p.m. on Zoom. People can register by emailing [email protected] and can request naloxone, Fentanyl test strips and medical deactivation bags online.
In-person training and Narcan distribution is available later this month on May 17 and June 21 from 3-6 p.m. at DHS headquarters (2120 Washington Blvd, Room 112). No registration is required for in-person training.
As of last Wednesday, Arlington County police had investigated 55 incidents involving opioids this year, per county data. Since Jan. 1, 2023, there have been 20 opioid overdoses, of which six were fatal, according to ACPD.
While the overall fatality rate is dropping, Arlington is seeing elevated opioid use among youth, who gravitate toward counterfeit pressed pills that are increasingly laced with fentanyl.
There was a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School in January followed by a near-fatal teen overdose in a Ballston parking garage in March. The quick application of Narcan by first responders helped to save those who overdosed in the parking garage.
Those incidents revealed cracks in treatment options for youth in Arlington that are beginning to be remedied.
Some treatment options, like a new rehab facility, will take a while to open. In the meantime, Arlington Public Schools and the county have put money toward more education, substance abuse counselors, after-school programming.
After the FDA approved Narcan for over-the-counter use, APS announced it would be advancing plans to allow students to carry the nasal spray in schools, with parent permission and training, as early as May 26, WTOP reported.
Narcan is also stocked in emergency boxes throughout middle and high schools.
An Arlington doctor is facing federal charges after a grand jury indicted her for the illicit distribution of opioid pills.
Dr. Kirsten Ball is facing nearly a dozen counts of charges related to oxycodone distribution. Federal prosecutors say she and her office manager, who was convicted and sentenced last year, conspired to dispense “vast quantities of oxycodone to her patients — contrary to ordinary standards of medical care.”
One patient received prescriptions for “as many as 360 oxycodone 30-mg tablets per month,” while another received a prescription to treat “long-term pain” while they were performing “manual labor on Ball’s home,” according to a press release.
The charges potentially could land Ball, 68, in prison for decades. Despite the allegations, reviews of her care on a doctor rating website are generally positive.
“Very caring, affirmative, straight forward yet, gentle approach to health care,” wrote one patient. “If you need a professional physician, with a comforting approach, Dr. Ball is a great choice!”
Arlington has been hard hit by the national opioid crisis. There were more than 70 fatal opioid overdoses here between 2015 and 2020, according to Arlington County Police Department statistics. The crisis has also infiltrated local schools, with the fatal in-school overdose of a Wakefield High School student this year helping to spur action by Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools.
The press release about the indictment is below.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment this week charging an Arlington doctor with distributing tens of thousands of oxycodone pills for almost a decade for no legitimate medical reason.
According to allegations in the indictment, Kirsten Van Steenberg Ball, 68, was a primary care physician who operated a medical practice out of her home in Arlington. Ball allegedly conspired with her office manager to shield the fact that she was dispensing vast quantities of oxycodone to her patients—contrary to ordinary standards of medical care—from law enforcement and regulatory authorities.
The indictment alleges that Ball’s office manager, Candie Marie Calix, 40, of Front Royal, used an alias to disguise the fact that Calix was, herself, a patient of Ball. According to the indictment, Ball allegedly prescribed her office manager approximately 50,000 oxycodone pills over a period of approximately 10 years.
The indictment further alleges that the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) investigated Ball twice: once in 2015 and once in 2021. Despite the two investigations, Ball did not change her prescribing practices. According to the indictment, examples of Ball’s prescriptions include the following:
- Prescribing a patient as many as 360 oxycodone 30-mg tablets per month;
- Prescribing similarly high quantities of oxycodone to close family members;
- Paying a patient to perform manual labor on Ball’s home while concurrently prescribing the patient oxycodone, ostensibly for long-term pain;
- Loaning a patient $40,000 while concurrently prescribing the patient oxycodone;
- Continuing to prescribe oxycodone to patients after they failed drug screens.
Ball is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and 21 counts of distribution of oxycodone. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Calix was sentenced to seven years in prison on September 28, 2022, for conspiring to distribute oxycodone.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, made the announcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh is prosecuting the case.
An employee of the Arlington County Public Defender’s Office appears to have been duped into smuggling drugs into the local jail.
An apparent misunderstanding over recent changes to the delivery of personal mail could have contributed to the advocate’s arrest, according to her boss, Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood.
Last month, a 32-year-old woman was arrested and charged with unauthorized delivery in jail in connection with an offense that allegedly occurred in mid-February, per court records. The employee reportedly delivered papers to the jail in her capacity as an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office, but the papers — unbeknownst to her — had been soaked in drugs. The delivery also circumvented a new jail policy.
The case was transferred to the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney to prosecute.
“We had to get a special prosecutor for that because of a potential conflict of interest,” Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said. “Loudoun handled that and it would be inappropriate for me to have been involved in the decision making.”
Two sources confirmed to ARLnow that the court quickly granted a prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the charges. This was done on the grounds that she lacked knowledge that she delivered contraband to the jail. Loudoun’s Commonwealth’s Attorney did not respond to requests for comment before publication time.
Charges are still pending for another woman in connection to this case. Cassandra Bertrand, 30, was arrested and charged with the distribution of and conspiracy to distribute Schedule I/II drugs. She is also charged with two counts of delivering drugs to a prisoner.
When asked about this case, a spokeswoman for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, provided the names and charges for the two defendants but declined to comment further.
“To ensure the integrity of the ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution, additional details are not available for release,” spokeswoman Amy Meehan said.
Closing the mail drug smuggling loophole
Like detention facilities around the country, the Arlington County Detention Facility is combatting a relatively new way of smuggling drugs inside: mail.
Personal correspondence is dipped in or sprayed with a synthetic drug and sent to the inmate, who smokes it or tears up the paper and sells bits to others.
This method has been around for several years, per a 2016 Washington Post article, but a recent spate of such smuggling attempts have received media attention this year. There were instances in Chicago, in Massachusetts and on Riker’s Island in New York City, where love letters and cards from children were soaked in fentanyl.
In the Arlington case, law enforcement sources tell ARLnow the letter was coated in a synthetic cannabinoid called nicknamed “K2” or “Spice.” The chemical name, ADB-Butinaca, is identified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule I drug.
“The jail is aware this is a new trend and as of February 1st, we use a third-party digital mail center to scan all incoming, personal mail which is then forwarded to the inmates’ tablets,” Meehan said.
Per a notice she shared with ARLnow, all mail addressed to inmates must be sent to a post office box in Missouri. The policy for legal mail, however, has not changed.
Legal mail is a broad category that can encompass papers that — to the Sheriff’s Office — look an awful lot like personal mail. In this case, printed copies of photos were shared with the client because they would be entered into the record in the inmate’s upcoming court appearances.
The photos, which are called “mitigation materials” in the legal community, are intended to humanize the person facing a potential sentence. But it may not have looked that way to the Sheriff’s Office.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) As more parents and caregivers grapple with substance use addiction among youth, they are increasingly turning to the juvenile justice system as a last resort.
Over the past year, there has been upwards of a 100% increase in the number of petitions being made for court-ordered services, such as drug treatment, according to Hon. W. Michael Chick, Jr., a judge with the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
He noted “a dramatic increase” in Child in Need of Services or Supervision petitions, “CHINs” for short, filed by parents. These days, most are related to fentanyl.
“They are coming to the court to say, ‘We’re desperate, please save my child,'” he said in a video message to parents shared during a panel discussion on drugs last night (Monday) hosted by three high school Parent-Teacher Associations and the Arlington County Council of PTAs.
“They are children with severe substance addictions and they’re desperate,” said Chick.
“To have kids come in front of you, asking for a treatment program and you’re not able to provide it — to have a kid beg you to put them in detention to save them from themselves — it’s heartbreaking,” he continued, reinforcing reports that youth are effectively detoxing in the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria.
There have been at least seven juvenile overdoses in Arlington County this year, including the death of 14-year-old student Sergio Flores after a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School. Following his death, teachers, parents and School Board members have called on Arlington Public Schools and all of county government to do more for children.
A slew of school– and community-sponsored panels have brought together first responders, counselors and addiction specialists and prosecutors to educate parents. The most recent was held last night at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, featuring a live panel discussion as well as pre-recorded messages, drawing some 200 virtual and in-person attendees.
An emerging theme at these meetings is the role of parents. The panel was as an outlet for a handful who shared first-hand observations as well as obstacles they face obtaining resources for their kids and getting through to them, with some panelists suggesting different ways parents can step up.
One mother shared how her daughter recently attempted suicide twice, part of a mini-rash of student deaths and attempted suicides this school year, and how long it took to schedule meetings with the right school officials to obtain accommodations to keep up with her schooling.
Michelle Best, who co-facilitates a parent support group through the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, empathized with how hard it can be for parents to receive services from the public schools in these situations.
“There’s a lot of information that could be better given to parents, out there in a better way,” she said.
A few panelists put the onus on parents, including Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, the leader of the ACPD Community Engagement Division, who encouraged parents to tip the police to known drug dealers.
“I can’t tell you how many times, when I’m in our community, I hear, ‘Wayne, how do you not know who’s dealing? Everybody knows,'” he said. “Here’s a flash. No, not everybody knows. The police don’t know. There are so many ways you can help identifying who they are.”
Drug use intervention programs for youth are in short supply in Arlington County, according to people who help youth with substance dependencies.
The need is particularly acute for younger teens, as the onset of exposure to and abuse of drugs is trending younger, National Capital Treatment and Recovery Clinical Director Pattie Schneeman said in a recent panel.
“‘There’s nothing out there for adolescents.’ I hear it all the time,” says Schneeman, acknowledging that National Capital Treatment and Recovery, formerly Phoenix House, stopped serving children in 2015 because insurance reimbursements did not cover operating costs.
“If you have money, you can send someone to a posh program. You can pay for services,” she continued. “But if you are average, middle-class or a low socioeconomic family, you have no resources, and it is very sad and devastating to our communities.”
Arlington is seeing a rise in youth obtaining and using opioids, with an increasing number overdosing both on and off school grounds — or effectively detoxing in the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria. In some cases, they are prescription, but in many others, they are buying illegally manufactured pills laced with the deadly drug fentanyl, from local gangs or through social media, police say.
The death of 14-year-old student Sergio Flores after a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School has driven teachers, parents and School Board members to call for more action and support from APS and Arlington County. Conversations since then have revealed the barriers throughout the continuum of care to actually treating kids.
For instance, school-based substance abuse counselors can only educate — they cannot provide treatment, according to School Climate Coordinator Chip Bonar, while appropriate treatment options can have a months-long waitlist. The division of the Arlington County Dept. of Human Services that works with children and behavioral health has 43% of its job positions unfilled and acknowledges there are few residential substance use treatment options.
It will be at least two years before VHC Health — formerly Virginia Hospital Center — opens its planned rehab facility. Two years is a long time, however, considering that less than a month passed between the death of Flores and a near-fatal teen overdose Wednesday.
To beef up treatment options, and expand services in the nearer term, Arlington is turning to settlements with manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies it alleges have been key players in the opioid epidemic. Just last week, the Arlington County Board agreed to participate in a proposed settlement against Teva, Allergan, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and their related corporate entities.
The Board voted to approve the settlement in an unannounced vote at the end of a lengthy meeting.
“This is the latest in a series of settlements that are part of the larger National Opioid Settlement,” said county spokesman Ryan Hudson. “The total funding awarded to the County from these agreements continues to evolve as more settlements are finalized. All opioid settlement funding will be used on approved opioid abatement purposes.”
Arlington County police and medics responded to a near-fatal opioid overdose in the Ballston mall parking garage this afternoon.
The initial dispatch went out shortly before 1:30 p.m. for a possible cardiac arrest with CPR in progress after an overdose, inside the county-owned public parking garage. A group of teens was found near the mall elevators on the 6th floor of the garage.
First responders administered the overdose reversal medication Narcan to two people with suspected overdoses and reported that the person initially said to be in cardiac arrest had a pulse but was unconscious, according to scanner traffic.
The fire department established an incident command at the garage and ended up transporting three people to a local hospital via ambulance.
Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow that those involved were juveniles.
“At approximately 1:24 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of possible overdose in the 4200 block of Wilson Boulevard involving three juveniles,” Savage said. “First responders administered NARCAN on two of the juveniles which resulted in positive responses. The three juveniles were transported to an area hospital. The investigation is ongoing.”
A similar incident was reported at the parking garage last week, on a Tuesdy morning.
A group of highly intoxicated teens required medical attention in a stairwell, not far from the entrance to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“At approximately 9:33 a.m., police were dispatched to the 600 block of N. Glebe Road for the report of a Drunk in Public,” Savage said at the time. “Upon arrival, six juveniles showing signs of intoxication were located inside a stairwell of a commercial building. Out of an abundance of caution, they were transported to an area hospital for evaluation. The investigation is ongoing.”
ARLnow did not previously report on the alcohol incident. Between then and now, a police source confirmed to an ARLnow reporter that the juveniles were students at nearby Washington-Liberty High School and were skipping class.
Savage said it was not immediately clear whether today’s incident involved the same group.
“As part of the ongoing investigation, detectives will work to determine if this incident is related to any other reported incidents,” she said.
Today’s overdoses follow several involving students on and off school grounds since the start of December’s holiday break, part of an ongoing opioid epidemic at Arlington’s public schools.
At least three have occurred on school grounds so far this year, including a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School on Jan. 31. That has led to calls for various changes at APS by teachers, parents and School Board members.
After a fatal overdose on school grounds last month, Arlington Public Schools has been urging staff to call 911 for potential overdoses.
For incidents that might not be life-or-death, however, staff members are still being instructed to tell administrators when students show signs of being high or drunk, sending them to the school nurse for evaluation.
But multiple school sources tell ARLnow that, in their experience, they’ve already been reporting possibly impaired kids to administration and getting them evaluated by nurses, and neither step made inroads for students who are repeatedly coming to school high.
They added that they don’t feel heard by administrators. Students who are evaluated are either sent home or — in at least one case — returned to class while obviously high, per a video inside a classroom that ARLnow reviewed.
The instructions to staff were not enough to address their long-standing concerns about a group of teens at Wakefield that included Sergio Flores, the student who died last month, according to some teachers and local teachers union president June Prakash.
Before Flores was found unconscious in a bathroom at the school last month, staff had intervened when they discovered him and other students doing drugs — and had told administrators they were doing drugs and skipping class, according to a teacher with knowledge of the situation and documentation shared with ARLnow.
Despite following protocol, the teachers say the behavior continued.
“It’s going to happen again and again if this is all Arlington Public Schools is going to do,” the teacher told ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution. “I don’t want to see this story or our students buried again.”
“As educators, we are in loco parentis” — acting in the place of the parent, in Latin — “but where does that begin and end?” Prakash asked.
It’s a question rattling teachers, says parent Judith Davis.
“Teachers are not okay, at all,” she tells ARLnow.
One Wakefield teacher is now even taking it upon herself to raise money to support families who cannot afford residential drug treatment for their children, which can cost some $60,000 for 90 days. Nearly $2,400 has been raised so far.
“I believe some students’ only chance to recover from opioid addiction is to remove them from the school environment and place them in a residential program,” the teacher wrote in the GoFundMe description. “Help me raise funds so that a student’s ability to pay is never an issue when finding a placement.”
Opioid use appears to be on the rise among youth and in Arlington Public Schools, and this issue is more widespread than just Wakefield.
In 2019, there were no recorded opioid overdoses involving juveniles in Arlington. Last year, that number jumped to eight, none of which were fatal. This year alone, there have been four, three of which occurred at school, and one of which was fatal, per remarks Tuesday by County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
Sources say the writing has been on the wall for months and perhaps since the end of widespread virtual instruction during the pandemic. They said teachers do not feel heard by administrators when they report their concerns or refer students for evaluations. Such concerns extend to lower grades, including at local elementary and middle schools.
“This does seem like a no-win situation in a lot of ways,” Prakash said. “On the one hand, you report something, and it seems to go unnoticed, or it looks like nothing is happening.”
“On the other hand,” she continued, “you have untrained staff trying to make these assessments — and what if they are wrong — what are the consequences for thinking a kid might be under the influence and then having them sent home?”
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From 2019 until 2022, there were no reported juvenile overdoses on Arlington Public Schools grounds. In the first six weeks of 2023, there have been three, including one that was fatal.
Meanwhile, drug possession and distribution cases remain lower than they were before school buildings closed during the pandemic, but appear to be on the rise.
The Arlington County Police Department, which provided the data in response to a FOIA request by ARLnow, says factors that could have impacted the number of reported cases possession and distribution cases include Covid-related school closures and legislative changes.
State statute was modified so that school principals were only required to report to law enforcement possible felony drug possession cases, such as possession of oxycodone or Adderall without a prescription.
The data seems to suggest drug use on school grounds is rising, as is the possession of substances that carry felony charges. These emerging trends were thrown into relief last week when a student was found unconscious at Wakefield High School, and later died at the hospital of an apparent drug overdose. Four other students that day were evaluated and dispatches for possible overdoses continued into the next week.
While parents have been concerned about opioids since kids returned to school following the pandemic closures, the events of last week prompted a parent march and a School Board work session on opioids. During the School Board meeting — complete with a demonstration of the overdose reversal drug naloxone — substance abuse counselor Jenny Sexton said her team is most concerned about young people crushing up and smoking illicitly manufactured opioids.
These pills are cheap and can be purchased on social media. Some contain fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and can only be detected once the pill is taken or if the user has a fentanyl test strip.
School Board members asked administrators what additional steps they are taking to improve school security and increase drug use prevention efforts and substance use recovery support. They also assured those watching they are taking this issue seriously.
“I hope that you hear that we are moving on this, that we feel the sense of urgency and that everyone around this table, and that everyone who is at APS, we see the issue, we feel the fear along with you,” School Board Vice-Chair Cristina Diaz-Torres said, addressing the parents tuning in.
“We understand that that is not acceptable and that there should not be a version of the world where you have to live in fear of your child going to school,” she continued. “We are moving quickly on a lot preventative measures with immediate triage efforts to ensure that our students have what they need in the immediate future.”
(The work session recorded more than 750 listeners — far and away more than any other recent work session and on par with many regularly-scheduled School Board meetings.)
If you missed the School Board Work Session on Opioids & Substance Use in APS: Education & Prevention last night, I encourage you to watch the recording & share it because important info was shared about substance use & the administration of Naloxone. https://t.co/W9s3mqZJu0
— Francisco Duran, Ed.D. (@SuptDuran) February 8, 2023
School Board Chair Reid Goldstein stressed that combating drug use will require a community-wide response consisting of efforts at home and school and from the public.
“As a community, we must stay vigilant and well-informed and work together,” he said. “We have urged [the superintendent] to pursue every avenue to address safety and security issues at the schools by providing proposals to the board for funding consideration. It is through the collaborative actions of staff, parents, the community and students that APS will holistically address the needs of students, families and staff.”
In a statement to ARLnow, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said the County Board agrees with the need for a community-wide response and interventions at home, school and in the county’s neighborhoods.
“We are currently coordinating with our colleagues to see what additional resources and increased support Arlington County can provide to reduce addiction in our community, with a particular focus on youth and a goal that no other family has to experience the tragedy of losing a child to the consequences of substance use,” he said.
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.