Leaders say use of opioids, particularly fentanyl, is on the rise among youth in Montgomery County.
“We must all work together to save our county’s children,” Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight said during a press conference Thursday.
County Police Chief Marcus Jones said while there has been a decrease in overall opioid overdoses, numbers increased among youth in 2022.
According to data shared by MCPS, 11 youths under the age of 21 died from opioid overdose in 2022, a 120% increase since 2021, when there were five fatal overdoses. There were 37 non-fatal overdoses among youth last year, a 68% increase from 2021. There were 48 total fatal and non-fatal youth overdoses last year, compared to 27 in 2021.
Many youths who take the drugs are experimenting and are not necessarily facing addiction issues that some adults face, Jones explained. At the same time, youths using opioids do not have the same safety nets, tolerances or experiences with drugs, so the risk for overdose is higher.
In the past, youths were overdosing on fentanyl after mistakenly taking counterfeit drugs believed to be other drugs like xanax and adderall, Jones said. However, recent trends suggest young people are intentionally buying and using “street fentanyl drugs.”
“We are playing russian roulette with pills,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said. He cited Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, which protects people who help in emergency overdose situations from prosecution.
“If you are with someone who is experiencing an overdose, under the Good Samaritan Laws and I as the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County am pledging, if you make a call and save that person’s life, we will not prosecute you,” McCarthy said.
“Whatever the drug paraphernalia is, I’m here to tell you I don’t care. I could always prosecute another drug case, I can’t rise people from the dead. I can’t bring these young people back.”
Jones stressed the police department’s mission is to work with the community to prevent opioids from getting into the hands of kids and all residents.
“We as the Montgomery County Police are looking to prevent lives from being lost. That is our mission, it is not that we are here simply to arrest ourselves out of this problem. That is not the goal of our mission,” Jones said.
McKnight committed to having an education campaign for MCPS students and parents. MCPS advises parents and caregivers to speak to their kids about the dangers of drug use and how to avoid it.