5 Anchorage School District students have overdosed on fentanyl in 2023

At least 5 Anchorage School District students have overdosed in 2023
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 3:29 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2023 at 5:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage School District officials say five students have overdosed on fentanyl since the first of the year, during school hours, but off school grounds.

“I thought five was a lot,” said Kathy Bell, the health services director at ASD.

According to ASD, when the students returned to school they complained of feeling sick and were saved by staff trained to use naloxone.

“There may have been other overdoses that we don’t know about,” Bell said.

ASD officials say they don’t know what drugs the students thought they were taking, but it could have been anything from cannabis to Adderall or Xanax pills. Bell describes some of the pills as being colored like a rainbow or blue oxycodone tablets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes fentanyl as “up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.”

During a leadership meeting on Wednesday, ASD gave Naloxone kits to principals, including those at elementary schools.

“We’re worried about our staff, we’re worried about people, maybe in the community, in your school, parents, anybody we just want it to be a safe environment and we want to help whoever we can,” Bell said.

Sandy Snodgrass, the mother of 22-year-old Bruce Snodgrass who died from a fentanyl overdose in 2021, says 16 overdoses were reported in hospitals across Anchorage among people 14 to 18 years old since January.

“That’s more than one a week,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass has been advocating for education, awareness, and prevention of the fentanyl crisis. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced “Bruce’s Law” on the Senate floor earlier this year.

The bill “will bolster federal prevention and education efforts surrounding the dangers of drugs laced with fentanyl, an incredibly powerful and deadly synthetic opioid. It also authorizes new Community-Based Coalition Enhancement grants to help educate young people about the risks of street drugs laced with fentanyl,” according to Murkowski’s website.

Dr. Michael Jurasek, with the CDC, wrote that “there are many more intentional overdose events in this age group.” He was referring to suicide attempts in 14- to 18-year-olds.

“I think this is an extreme concern for all Alaskans. Specifically, what we can do as everyday citizens is carry naloxone and be aware of what the signs of an opioid poisoning are and be ready to respond to that,” Snodgrass said.

Bell also spoke about the importance of knowing how to use naloxone.

“I just want you to know that the fentanyl that’s out there, in very minute amounts, is very strong,” Bell said. “It’s 50 times stronger than heroin, 100 times stronger than morphine, so it can kill.”