NEWPORT, Wash. – Students at Newport High School spent much of Tuesday learning about the dangers of fentanyl from guest speakers, local experts and family members who lost a loved one to overdose.
“I have been part of law enforcement for almost 30 years. I can tell you without question, this is the most dangerous drug I have ever seen,” Stephanie Van Martel, Assistant U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, told the students in the school’s gymnasium.
The U.S. attorney’s office first noticed the drug in the region in 2016, Van Martel said. Since then, the drug’s presence has expanded at an alarming rate. Law enforcement across the country seized enough fentanyl in 2021 to kill every single American, she said. “That’s how prolific it is.”
The awareness event was organized at the suggestion of a Newport family whose 28-year-old son, Dylan Krogh, died in April 2021 from fentanyl poisoning. Todd Krogh, Dylan’s father, shared the story with the school’s 300 students.
Dylan started using the drug to deal with pain from a back injury since he did not have health insurance and was too proud to accept help, Todd said. When he found out, he confronted his son about it.
“I told him, you can’t be taking this stuff,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in it. You’re making me scared.”
Dylan didn’t often show his emotions, “but that day we shared a lot of tears,” Todd said. Dylan promised he would not use the drug anymore.
Yet Todd found his son’s body a short time later. He said that scene “is the most awful movie that plays in my head every day.”
He instructed the students to take the information they learned to heart. He hopes to not just save one person, but all of the students at Newport.
“I want to save your families, your friends, the misery that I have experienced,” he said.
After hearing from other members of the Krogh family, students broke into small groups and rotated to hear from guests throughout the school.
Geoff Jones, a family physician in Newport, spoke about how fentanyl affects the body.
There are many different kinds of fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine, he said. It’s main medical use is for surgery where it is safe because it is carefully controlled and the patient’s vitals are actively monitored throughout the procedure.
Fentanyl disproportionately affects people who are disadvantaged, including people of color and rural residents, he said.
Newport police Chief Mark Duxbury said the drug is present in the community and the department is investigating fentanyl-related cases. He is primarily encountering the drug as blue tablets imitating oxycodone.
Pend Oreille County, with a population of 13,588, is averaging four fentanyl-related deaths a year, Duxbury said. County law enforcement officers were able to save six lives last year using naloxone, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Van Martel said the real danger of fentanyl is that there is no way to know its consistency. The illicit drug is manufactured haphazardly without care for how evenly the dosage is distributed.
“When they make these pills, it’s not in a lab,” she said. “Nobody is paying attention to the quantities.”
Four in 10 pills are estimated to contain a lethal dose, she said. Because of this inconsistency, there is no way to judge based on past experience. “If your friend says, ‘I’ve done it before, it’s OK, I was fine’ – they don’t know what’s in the next pill and nor do you,” she said.
Those who are making the drug only care about making money, she said. The drug can be laced in just about anything – including vape pens and cannabis – and it is often disguised as candy or medication. Therefore, it is important to only take medications prescribed from a pharmacy.
“(The students) are hearing a lot of the same information,” Newport principal Steve Bouldin said, “but it’s being presented in different ways through different avenues.”
Students were challenged to sign a banner and pledge never to use any illicit drug and to help educate others.
“I think people were shocked to know that it had such a big impact on our community,” said Morgan Roberts, a National Honor Society student who helped organize the event.
Leadership students from Cusick, Deer Park and Riverside attended to observe so they can potentially organize similar events at their schools.
“I think it would be really beneficial, especially after seeing how big of a problem it is becoming,” said Grace Martinson, a senior and ASB executive president at Deer Park High School. “I think kids aren’t as aware as they should be. “
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