PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Tuesday marks Fentanyl Awareness Day — bringing attention to the synthetic opioid that has led to skyrocketing overdose deaths in recent years, especially among teens and young adults.
Beaverton School District is trying to educate teens about the drug, before it’s too late, with a campaign called “Fake and Fatal: One Pill can Kill.”
In 2020 and 2021, Beaverton lost several students and former students to fentanyl-related poisonings. The district now has fentanyl-specific lessons, with the goal of teaching kids that the pills they buy online or through a dealer could be fake and fatal.
Sixth through 12th grade students in the district will receive the fentanyl lessons through their health and advisory classes each year.
“We learned a lot about, like, any pill that you’re taking could be laced with fentanyl,” Sunset High School senior Ella Bacon told KOIN 6 News.
Sunset sophomore Navya Dharshan added, “We definitely learned a lot more about how it can spread through social media and how common it is.”
For Sunset High School, the fentanyl campaign is personal.
Jennifer and Jon Epstein’s son, Cal, graduated from Sunset High — and was home for Christmas break in 2020 — when he bought what he thought was an oxycontin pill on Snapchat. The pill ended up having a lethal amount of fentanyl, and he died five days later in the hospital.
“Cal made a mistake, you know, we recognize that, and we’re not defending, you know, a bad choice. But choices should be informed by information, and the consequences of choices shouldn’t be instant death,” Jon Epstein said.
Cal’s parents wanted to make sure this didn’t happen to another family and offered to share his story with Beaverton School District. The family played a big role in helping to create the fake and fatal education.
“We know that they’re going to experiment, so we can’t be naive parents. We can’t think ‘My child would never.’ We have to move away from that mentality and that stigma,” said Beaverton School District Health Educator Kristen Gustafson.
Gustafson told KOIN 6 News that six out of every 10 pills purchased illegally, potentially have fentanyl.
The curriculum looks at the danger and data around fake pills including decision making, and influences students face every day with many drug dealers on social media — and like Cal — the kids buying them have no idea.
Sunset students told KOIN 6 News that the education was eye-opening.
“It’s honestly scary, just one pill, you know? And then it’s all over,” Sunset junior Ehan Masud said.
Sunset senior Ashlyn Wallace added, “One interaction with it can cost your life. You just never know.”
Since the district launched fake and fatal lessons in May 2021, they seem to be working. In that time period, they have not lost any additional students to fentanyl overdose deaths.
Cal’s parents say it’s proof that education works, and fueled by the memory of their son, they’re continuing to spread their message.
“We have become experts in an area we never wish we knew about, but the fact of the matter is, this is something that everybody needs to know,” Jen Epstein said.
On May 18, Beaverton School District is hosting a community conversation about fentanyl at the District Administrative Office at 6:30 p.m. The conversation will also be streamed on YouTube.
The Epstein family and others with the district will be at the discussion, moderated by KOIN 6 News’ Jenny Hansson.