Overdoses on the rise among Virginia students

Teens turning to illicit market exposed to fentanyl-laced pills

ROANOKE, Va. – Fake pills laced with fentanyl are making their way into Virginia middle and high schools.

10 News spoke with a local youth substance abuse prevention expert who says just one pill can kill.

The equivalent of ten grains of salt. That’s the amount of fentanyl that could kill you.

Adam Neal is the director of the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition (RAYSAC). He says the rate of student overdoses in Virginia is on the rise.

“Counterfeit pills are showing up across our state,” said Neal.

Student overdoses are making headlines from Northern Virginia to the far southwest corner of the Commonwealth. More than a dozen students overdosed in the past few months.

“Their bodies are not as large as a fully grown adult. And so it doesn’t even take as much as two milligrams [to die] for somebody with a smaller body,” said Neal.

Neal says counterfeit pills made to look like Oxycontin, cocaine, Xanax or popular study drugs like Adderall are hitting the Black Market. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, seven out of 10 counterfeit pills seized contain deadly amounts of fentanyl.

“People are starting to try to find cheaper alternatives from having to go to the doctor because the doctor might not prescribe something to them,” said Neal.

This week, Neal spoke to PTA members at Roanoke City Public Schools to educate parents. He says it’s important to talk about the dangers early and often. He warned that social media like Snapchat and encrypted messaging apps make it easy for teens to get their hands on illicit drugs.

“The opportunity is there and it’s cheap and easy to get,” said Neal. “There’s a lot of different ways that they can reach this stuff without their parents even knowing.”

His message to students:

“Never [share] medication. Even if you think that you trust that person. Even if you feel like it’s a family member offering you something. It’s really just not worth the risk to share something like medication. And then don’t buy drugs that are from an illicit source. If it’s not from a licensed pharmacy, then you run the risk of fentanyl poisoning,” said Neal.

10 News reached out to local school districts to see if they’ve had any recent school-related overdoses. Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Martinsville, and Galax responded, saying they thankfully haven’t had any students overdose.

They also say that nurses in every building have access to and are trained to use the opioid-reversal drug Narcan.

About the Author:

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!