No second chances; Tempe students teach peers and parents about dangers of fentanyl

Students in the Tempe Union High School District are hosting a free forum this week to help parents and kids learn the facts about fentanyl.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 6:07 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Students in the Tempe Union High School District are hosting a free forum this week to help parents and kids learn the facts about fentanyl and how there are no second chances when it comes to this deadly drug. The Maricopa County medical examiner has reported a 5,000% increase in deadly overdoses since 2015.

Cloe Bolen is a senior at McClintock High in Tempe. She helped record a couple of public service announcements, shot in black & white, to bring home a simple message. “I think a lot of parents should look into the fact that kids are experimenting at younger ages,” Bolen said.

While some parents wait to have the talk with their kids because they don’t want to put ideas into their heads, sadly, too many teens are dying experimenting with drugs they think are safe enough, not knowing they’re laced with fentanyl.

In the PSA, Cloe says, “Look, I’m not here to preach, I’m really not. But you need to be aware of a serious issue if you don’t already know about it. From that vape you’re hitting to the Xanax you got off social media- teens as young as 14 are accidentally overdosing on fentanyl.” The messages are part of a student-led initiative to educate kids on the dangers of fentanyl. “I was a freshman when Covid happened, so we didn’t really get to experience a lot of high school,” Bolen said. So for the last year, the Tempe Union High School District’s been working with valley advocates and law enforcement to find the best way to empower these teens to save their peers.

“We just pretty much got locked in our houses and couldn’t see our friends. So that’s really when we saw a lot of experimenting happen for students because they didn’t know what to do, a lot of kids just felt alone & depressed,” Bolen said. She says kids aren’t looking for fentanyl when they get pills or drugs from friends at school or dealers selling on social media who now deliver right to your door. “A lot of times it can be peer pressure or even just being afraid to say no,” Bolen said.

A recent study in Maricopa County found 42% of confiscated pills tested for fentanyl have a fatal dose. “Kids are just going out with their friends and they come back and they’re taking a pill or doing something they shouldn’t do, and they’re gone,” Bolen said.

Tempe Union High School District advisor Warren Cole says they lost a student to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2019. He says it’s important to let students lead the charge. “It’s a friend talking to a friend, like, ‘Look, I get it, I understand sometimes we want to go out, and we want to have fun, but I’m telling you, this is what’s happening,” Cole said.

Maricopa County attorney Rachel Mitchell chairs the governor’s Children’s Justice Taskforce. “I was looking a couple months ago at the Arizona Youth Survey and it had a disturbing percentage of kids that had never heard of Fentanyl,” Mitchell said.

That survey showed 47% of 8th graders had never heard of fentanyl, and nearly 80% of students had not talked with their parents about it. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It’s being seized at alarming rates locally, now valued at around 27 cents a pill, which Mitchell says is one reason more dealers are using it to cut their everyday street drugs to improve their profits.

She says even though her office isn’t working any active negligent homicide or manslaughter cases where dealers knowingly exposed buyers to fentanyl without their knowledge, she doesn’t need a new state law to prosecute people for fentanyl overdose deaths. “This is not something that you can experiment with. This is something that can be immediately addictive and immediately deadly. To me, that’s not a drug, that’s a poison,” Mitchell said. “With Fentanyl, there may not be a second chance,” Bolen said.

Cloe hopes this sinks in. That students understand there’s no going back from one bad choice and that it’s okay to say no. “It’s okay to say no to things, especially when you’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Bolen said.

Tempe Union High School District’s hosting a free educational forum Fighting Fentanyl Together at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at McClintock High. It’s for parents, kids, and families. It doesn’t matter where you live or go to school. They want everyone to learn the facts about fentanyl. They’re also giving out free Narcan, the opioid reversal drug, and showing how to use it.