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(Updated 2/19) Advocates are calling for Arlington County to invest $2 million in additional programs to stop students from dying of drug overdoses.

The mother of an Arlington ninth grader who died of an apparent fentanyl overdose in September joined over 250 others on Wednesday to demand additional funding for free after-school programs. Organizers say a scarcity of accessible, interesting programming makes students more likely to fall into drug addiction.

“We as parents and members of this community ask you to invest in after-school programs,” organizer Janeth Valenzuela, co-founder of the Arlington Schools Hispanic Parents Association (ASHPA), told officials in attendance at Kenmore Middle School. “It is an investment in life, in a better future, in a different destiny for our children. We know from experience that affordable programs at the schools will help.”

Luz Rodríguez, the mother of Jorge Rodríguez, pleaded with Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Takis Karantonis and member Maureen Coffey, who were in attendance, to work to ensure that her son is the last child in Arlington to die from drugs.

“We must all work together to stop this terrible disease that is killing our children,” Rodríguez said in Spanish, which was translated for English speakers.

Karantonis pledged to enter this year’s budget negotiations “with a $2 million mindset.”

“If the price is $2 million, this is the funding that’s needed? Then let’s do it,” said the Board member, who in November carried a motion to increase funding for programs combating teen substance abuse.

Coffey begged off on pledging a specific amount but said she would “fight for significant and ongoing funding.”

School Board members Mary Kadera and Bethany Sutton were also present at the event.

The County Board voted 3-2 in November to set aside $750,000 to build up initiatives relating to drug use among young people. So far, the county has used this money to expand teen programming on the weekends, enhance juvenile case management and increase outreach about existing programs.

Last month, County Manager Mark Schwartz said the Department of Human Services had also hired two additional counselors, one at Washington-Liberty High School and one at Wakefield High School. Jorge Rodríguez attended Wakefield and was the second student at that school to die last year.

Two additional counselors were being onboarded in January to work at Yorktown High School and the Arlington Career Center.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) hosted listening sessions with hundreds Arlington high school students and parents, most of whom were people of color, before making its $2 million recommendation, per a media packet. The funds would allow 200 young people in underserved communities to attend three hours of free programming every day after school.

Students and parents expressed interest in soccer options beyond recreation, travel and school teams. Other areas of interest included art, cooking, tennis, film, photography and podcasting.

Schwartz said in January that the county was “working on” an expanded soccer program, which he expected to go live by late February, in addition to a newly expanded basketball program.

VOICE, alongside ASHPA and the Arlington branch of the NAACP, says it supports more substance abuse education and access to behavioral health professionals. Its media packet says Arlington lacks widespread, relevant education initiatives on this topic, while many students said that accessing counselors and behavioral health professionals is difficult.

For a Wakefield senior named Marina, the need for a better response to the opioid crisis is personal.

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Adele McClure (courtesy of Adele McClure)

Del. Adele McClure is quickly making her mark in the Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature, just weeks after taking office.

The 2nd District representative’s first legislative success of her tenure came last week when the House of Delegates narrowly approved her bill to broaden the state’s minimum wage protections to include farm and temporary foreign workers.

“I had so many candid conversations with farmers who expressed that they are already paying their workers at or above the minimum wage,” McClure said in a press release. “My bill specifically addresses those outliers who, on the contrary, continue to pay workers lower wages while still demanding higher and higher output–which undercuts farmers who are doing the right thing and paying their workers fair wages.”

HB 157, which narrowly passed with a 50-49 vote, is now proceeding to the Senate, also controlled by Democrats.

Del. Jeion Ward, chair of the Labor and Commerce Committee, initially introduced this bill in 2021, arguing the farmworker exemption stems from Jim Crow-era discriminatory laws. At the time of its adoption in 1938, some lawmakers opposed paying farmworkers, many of whom were Black, the same rates as white laborers.

Ward’s bill failed in the Senate following opposition from agribusiness lobbyists who claimed farmers were already adequately compensated.

Inspired by Ward’s efforts, McClure told ARLnow that she wanted to continue where Ward left off.

“She has made valiant efforts to move that forward and ensure that the farmworkers are part of the conversation,” McClure said.

McClure claims the bill would only impact a small portion of farmers paying well below that minimum wage, which she says undercuts those who “pay their fair share.”

“These workers are just super hardworking… and they deserve to be protected under the minimum wage act like everybody else,” McClure said.

Over the last few years, Virginia’s minimum wage has risen from $7.25 to $12 per hour, a result of Democrat-endorsed legislation enacted in 2020. This law also sets out future increases, proposing a rise to $13.50 per hour in 2025 and $15 per hour in 2026. However, these planned hikes are contingent on further approval from the General Assembly.

Several other bills sponsored by McClure have also passed committee and are scheduled to be introduced on the House floor in the upcoming weeks.

These include a bill mandating firearm locking devices during the sale or transfer of firearms, a requirement for landlords to provide alternative housing options when a tenant’s unit is damaged, and a bill calling for law enforcement training standards to aid in preventing drug overdoses.

“I feel very privileged and honored to be in a position where I can effect so much change and so much change so quickly,” she said.

McClure admits she is unsure if her bills will make it past Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk, but she emphasized that each of the bills she has introduced has strong support from her constituents, which boosts her optimism.

“A lot of these things we’re passing are to help improve the lives of our fellow Virginians, so hopefully, he’ll take that into consideration when he’s wielding that pen,” she said.

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Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

There was another possible overdose at Wakefield High School last week.

Around 1:20 p.m., medics were dispatched to Wakefield for a report of an unconscious person, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner.

“The patient was transported to Virginia Hospital Center in stable condition,” he said.

Police were then dispatched around 2:15 p.m. to VHC Health, formerly Virginia Hospital Center, for reports of a possible overdose, Arlington County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

“The preliminary investigation indicates a juvenile female was transported from Wakefield High School to the hospital for medical treatment,” she said. “The incident was investigated as an overdose and the juvenile suffered non-life-threatening injuries.”

ACPD did not provide more information, citing Virginia law, which requires law enforcement agencies to ensure juvenile records are not disclosed to unauthorized parties.

Wakefield staff also called ACPD following the medical incident, says school system spokesman Andrew Robinson, noting this is consistent with the memorandum of understanding between Arlington Public Schools and ACPD “when there might be a possibility of a potential overdose in our schools.”

Arlington Public Schools and ACPD began inking an MOU two years ago, after the Arlington School Board voted to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds. The MOU was last updated in September to enumerate the emergency situations that trigger a call to police, including potential overdose incidents. Example emergency situations were not previously included in a previous draft from the spring of 2022.

“The MOU with ACPD is reviewed annually and tweaks are often made to further enhance and strengthen the partnership with APS,” Robinson said.

As for how the incident was communicated to the Wakefield community, Robinson said families received the following message from APS on Thursday afternoon.

This message is to inform you that emergency personnel responded to Wakefield High School briefly today to assist with a medical incident involving a student. The family of the student has been notified. As some of our students observed the first responders in our building, we wanted to ensure you are aware that the incident was resolved, and everyone is safe.

Robinson says the school system has a standard medical emergency message and APS does not disclose the nature of medical emergencies for student privacy and confidentiality reasons.

Since the fatal overdose of a 14-year-old Wakefield student nearly one year ago, APS has stepped up prevention education and counseling, the Arlington School Board permitted high schoolers to carry Narcan and a private treatment facility resumed admitting teen patients.

Still, underage overdose incidents have persisted, including last fall, when two girls survived overdoses at Wakefield, after which police charged a teen and a 19-year-old man with a battery of charges.

(Separately, police were dispatched to Yorktown High School today for what was initially reported to be an overdose. It was later determined to just be a medical emergency, Savage told ARLnow.)

Last November, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed Executive Order 28 requiring schools to notify all parents of school-involved overdoses within 24 hours. He directed the Virginia Dept. of Education to develop guidance for schools as they implement any changes to their communications with families.

Within a month, VDOE posted interim best practices interpreting the text of the executive order. VDOE did not respond to ARLnow’s request for more information about how the state will track whether schools follow the executive order.

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Arlington County courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Two Arlington County Sheriff’s Office deputies prevented a near-fatal opioid overdose in the lobby of the county courthouse yesterday morning.

The individual, a member of the public and not an inmate, was found lying on the ground in the courthouse lobby at approximately 8:30 a.m. Thursday, showing signs of a severe overdose.

While the specific opioid wasn’t named, officials noted that the individual was resuscitated with Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses from opioid painkillers and heroin.

The individual required several doses of Narcan to be revived, according to ACSO spokeswoman Amy Meehan.

After deploying the Narcan, deputies alerted emergency medical services and the man was transferred to the hospital.

Arlington County continues to feel the impacts of the nationwide opioid crisis, and regionally, about 32% of adults know a family member or friend struggling with addiction, estimates the Inova health system.

So far this year, Arlington has seen 43 non-fatal and 20 fatal overdoses, according to county data. That marks a decrease in the overall number of registered overdoses, though fatal overdoses have yet to see similar declines.

One fatal overdose, of a 14-year-old Wakefield High School student in January, sparked increased efforts and discussions within Arlington Public Schools, the county and the broader community about the need for counseling services and the availability of overdose-reversing treatments.

A press release about the incident from the sheriff’s office is below.

The quick response of two Arlington County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Corporal Gan and Corporal Garrison, saved a man’s life yesterday. While assigned to the Courthouse, the deputies saw a man lying on the floor in distress exhibiting overdose symptoms and immediately went to assist the individual. Corporal Gan administered Nasal Naloxone (also known as Narcan®), while Corporal Garrison alerted emergency services and the man was transported to the hospital.

Arlington County sheriff deputies and first responders carry Nasal Naloxone (also known as Narcan®), a safe and effective medication that can reverse an overdose from prescription painkillers or heroin. Narcan is available over the counter without a prescription. Arlingtonians can request free Narcan and REVIVE (Narcan) training by emailing the Department of Human Services.

It is important for our community to be aware of the signs of an overdose as this is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. If you observe someone experiencing the following overdose symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Vomiting or gurgling
  • Blue lips and/or fingernails
  • Not responsive or sleeping and cannot be woken up
  • Deep gurgling or rattling snore

Key Contact Information

Programs and Services

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are numerous treatment resources available in Arlington and through the Department of Human Services. Community members are also encouraged to prevent medication misuse or overdose by safely disposing of unused, unwanted or expired prescription medication in one of Arlington’s four permanent drug take-back boxes or by requesting a free deactivation bag.

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Wakefield High School entrance in February 2023 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A 19-year-old man and a teen boy are facing charges after two girls overdosed at Wakefield High School last week.

Police and medics responded to the school just before 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27 for a report of a critical overdose. A student in the school clinic was going in and out of consciousness and Narcan was administered ahead of the arrival of first responders, according to scanner traffic.

Arlington County police said today that the overdose patient was a teen girl, who was transported to a local hospital along with a second overdose patient, also a teen girl. Both “have since recovered,” ACPD said in a press release.

An investigation into the overdose led police to arrest Walter Zelaya Padilla, a 19-year-old Fairfax resident, and a teen boy who lives in Arlington. They’re facing a battery of charges, with police saying that Padilla supplied fentanyl to the teen, who then gave or sold it to the victims.

The drug distribution happened within a school zone, APCD said.

The arrests come as Arlington County tries to combat a crisis of teen opioid abuse. While overdoses in general are trending down this year in Arlington, incidents of teen overdoses have prompted calls to action by parents and local officials.

In January, 14-year-old Sergio Flores died after overdosing in a Wakefield High School bathroom. In March, several Washington-Liberty High School students overdosed in the Ballston mall parking garage. Last month, another Wakefield student was found dead at an apartment building in what one elected official and a local advocacy group described as an overdose, though an official cause of death has yet to be determined.

If the student’s death last month is confirmed as an overdose, it would be at least the 11th reported juvenile overdose in Arlington County — fatal and non-fatal — so far this year, factoring the two last week and official numbers provided to ARLnow by the county earlier in September.

More on the drug arrests, below, via an ACPD press release.

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Parents and community members march at Wakefield High School after 14-year-old student Sergio Flores died of an overdose (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Bucking statewide trends, Arlington County may be seeing opioid overdoses trend down this year.

So far this year, Arlington registered 44 overdoses with Narcan — a brand name for the opioid-reversal drug naloxone — deployed in 35 instances. Of the overdoses, eight involved juveniles, all of whom received Narcan.

That marks a 31% decrease this calendar year in total opioid overdoses, compared to other Virginia jurisdictions still seeing increases, says Emily Siqveland, the opioids program manager for the county.

That is the good news, to be taken with a more sobering projection that Arlington County is not seeing a similar decline in fatal overdoses. As of this time last year, Siqveland says Arlington had the same number of fatal overdoses as it does now: 15.

Arlington County has been significantly affected by the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on the country and the region, where the Inova health system estimates some 32% of adults have a family member or friend with an addiction. In response, the county has joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies linked to the opioid crisis, putting settlements toward treatment.

It was the January 2023 death of 14-year-old Sergio Flores after overdosing at Wakefield High School, however, that threw a spotlight on the use of pressed pills among young people and a lack of local treatment options for them. His passing prompted a surge in activity and conversations within Arlington Public Schools, the county and the broader community.

Eight months later, some of that work is coming together.

Percent change in naloxone distribution versus overdoses over the last year (courtesy Emily Siqveland)

Works in progress

The hyperlocal focus on young people dovetails with findings from Inova that younger generations are particularly touched by addiction. It found 32% of Gen Z and 39% of Millennial survey respondents reported having a family member or friend with an addiction.

APS has hired one substance abuse counselor and is finalizing paperwork for the other, says Darrell Sampson, the school system’s executive director of student services. This would bring the total number of counselors to eight serving the division.

This year, the Dept. of Human Services and APS are preparing to station four county therapists in the high schools. To date, 320 high school students have family consent to carry Narcan in school.

“With the additional substance abuse counselors, we’re able to expand supports to middle schools,” Sampson tells ARLnow, noting insufficient support for 6-8th graders was a concern in the community. “We want to try to keep [kids who are experimenting] from blowing up into a more full-blown addiction or using even more concerning substances.”

In June, several years after closing down its juvenile treatment program, National Capital Treatment & Recovery (NCTR) — formerly Phoenix House — debuted its new adolescent intensive outpatient program this summer.

As of yesterday (Thursday), NCTR has admitted 13 patients and has had to turn away referrals from outside the county, which it cannot accept at this time, NCTR Chief Clinical Officer Pattie Schneeman tells ARLnow.

“I anticipate the referrals will increase now that school has started, because that is often where we start seeing the needs surface, i.e. when it interferes with school attendance, etc.,” Schneeman said.

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Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Three days into the school year, Wakefield High School has logged a potential student overdose.

Medics were dispatched to the school at 11:30 a.m. and again about 45 minutes later for two students suffering possible drug overdoses — or, at least, the effects of suspected narcotics — according to scanner traffic.

Later this afternoon, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow that a “juvenile male was transported to an area hospital in non-life threatening condition.”

Police also responded to the school to investigate and are looking into the incident “as an apparent overdose and the investigation,” she said.

In an email, Wakefield Principal Pete Balas assured families that students were safe during the ordeal, which he described as a “medical incident” involving a student.

The full email is as follows:

Dear Families,

Emergency personnel responded to Wakefield this morning to assist with a medical incident involving a student. Fortunately, everyone is safe, and they were able to work with our staff to address the situation. At no point was the safety of any students or staff compromised.

As some of our students observed the first responders in our building, I wanted to ensure you are aware that the incident was resolved, and everyone is safe.

Sincerely,
Pete Balas,
Principal

A student died earlier this year at Wakefield from an overdose, followed by more dispatches for substance-abuse related emergencies at the school and near Washington-Liberty High School.

The student’s death, followed by a parent march and outcry for more support from teachers, prompted the Arlington School Board and administrators to act.

The school system allowed students to bring the opioid-reversal drug Narcan to school and budgeted for new deans and more substance-abuse counselors. These and other measures are part of a system-wide focus on increasing student well-being, particularly at the secondary level, this year.

Wakefield’s former principal, Chris Willmore, was promoted this spring to be the director of secondary education for Arlington Public Schools. One month later, Balas, who previously led Alexandria City High School, emerged as his replacement.

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Arlington police car (file photo)

A 30-year-old Lorton man is being charged with involuntary manslaughter after a fatal Arlington overdose.

A man died in a Penrose home last June after overdosing on drugs that contained fentanyl and mirtazapine, according to Arlington police.

An investigation led police to “the individual suspected of supplying the deceased with controlled substances.”

More, below, from a just-issued ACPD press release.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Organized Crime Section is announcing charges have been obtained following an investigation into a fentanyl overdose death. Armand Navarro, 30, of Lorton, VA is charged with Involuntary Manslaughter and Distribution of a Schedule I/II Controlled Substance (2nd Offense). He is being held on unrelated charges in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.

At approximately 10:06 p.m. on June 29, 2022, police were dispatched to the 700 block of S. Courthouse Road for the report of a medical emergency. Upon arrival, officers located an adult male inside a residence suffering from an apparent fentanyl overdose. Despite lifesaving measures attempted by officers and the Arlington County Fire Department, he was pronounced deceased on scene. An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined cause of death to be acute fentanyl and mirtazapine intoxication.

Detectives assigned to the Organized Crime Section initiated a comprehensive investigation which included witness interviews and the review of evidence. As a result of the review, detectives identified the individual suspected of supplying the deceased with controlled substances and warrants were obtained for his arrest.

The Arlington County Police Department remains committed to thoroughly investigating narcotics incidents and holding accountable those who traffic dangerous and deadly narcotics into our community. This remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s tip line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] or anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are numerous resources available through the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative. For additional community resources and contact information, visit our website.

This year, Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools have been undertaking a number of measures to combat the opioid crisis after a spate of overdose deaths.

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A training session for how to administer naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to reverse opioid overdoses in 2019 (staff photo)

(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.

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A training session for how to administer naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to reverse opioid overdoses in 2019 (staff photo)

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.

Fatal overdoses versus harm reduction (courtesy of AARI)

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.

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Counterfeit OxyContin with fentanyl, also known as ‘blues’ (via Drug Enforcement Agency/Flickr)

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.”

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