The recent drug overdoses at Cleveland High School have raised alarm bells, prompting Cleveland ISD to host two town hall meetings. At the first town hall meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, held at Cleveland Civic Center, “One pill kills” was the phrase that resonated with concerned parents, school staff, and community leaders.
The “One pill kills” phrase is not meant to be a scare tactic. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of the harsh reality that ingesting one wrong pill can result in a tragic death.
“If this gathering saves one life, then it’s worth it,” said Cleveland Mayor Danny Lee.
The panel of speakers at the town hall meeting included Cleveland ISD Superintendent Stephen McCanless, Cleveland ISD administrators John Fritts, Dr. Rebecca Sanford, Dr. Tyra Hodge and Lacy Green, Dr. Joy Alonzo, chair of the Opioid Task Force at Texas A&M, Dr. Spencer Greene, director of toxicology for the Department of Emergency Medicine at HCA Kingwood, Wendell Campbell, a retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent who is now with the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency, and others. Mayor Lee, Cleveland Police Chief Darrel Broussard and Cleveland ISD Police Chief Angela Allen joined the Q&A session at the end of the presentations.
Since the beginning of the school year, Cleveland ISD has had eight student overdoses, four of which required the administering of Narcan, also known as naloxone, used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.
“Cleveland ISD is committed to doing what is right for students. Our decision to be proactive by bringing this issue to the forefront and asking our parents and community for their help and support is more important to us than doing the ostrich effect and keeping it all contained and quiet,” McCanless told Bluebonnet News after the town hall meeting. “Just like in our own families, if we have a child or sibling suffering with an addiction or any other life-endangering behavior, what do we do? We seek professional help and support, and that is exactly what Cleveland ISD chose to do for ‘our kids.'”
Cleveland ISD’s proactive efforts involve creating or partnering with hospitals and universities on programs to prevent and react to drug overdosing, and educating parents and students to the dangers of drug use – particularly fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Legally prescribed fentanyl, used to treat severe pain and under a physician or hospital’s care, is not the greatest concern. The real threat is illicit fentanyl coming into the United States from Mexico. Currently, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans age 18-45.
“We have individuals in a foreign country, whether that’s China or here at the border of Mexico, making illicitly manufactured fentanyl, sending it to our country at such a rate that it’s become the number one cause of death for 18- to 45-year-olds. You’re more likely to die from a fentanyl overdose if you’re between that age group than you are to die from a heart attack,” said Campbell. “In addition to that, we have about 300 people every day in the United States die from a drug overdose. In 2022, over 109,000 people died in our nation from drug overdoses. You would think we would be pushing the pause button on everything and fixing that, wouldn’t you? Well, it sounds like y’all are doing something about it here in Cleveland.”
Hays CISD, west of Austin, was mentioned by a couple of the panelists to show what can happen when fentanyl drug use takes root in a school district and community. In 2022, 37 people either overdosed or died as a result of fentanyl poisoning in Hays County, six at Hays High School alone.
Cleveland ISD’s proactive response to the issue is impressive, some of the panelists said, as the District has developed a variety of programs they hope will cater to every need. Among the new programs is COPS, which stands for Community on Patrol in Schools. The aim of this initiative is to have members of the community patrolling school premises, working together with school staff to keep students safe from drugs.
Additionally, the UT Heroes project has been established to give students a chance to make a difference. UT Heroes aims to give students a platform to spread awareness about the dangers of opioids and inspire their peers to avoid drug use altogether. This will also allow them to create their own support system where they can seek help or support when necessary.
Despite the programs Cleveland ISD is introducing, the success of these programs will also largely rely on parental and peer participation. Parents and guardians must talk to their children about drugs, monitor their children’s activities and circle of friends, and act when they see something out of place or suspicious.
“I want the parents to know tonight, get into your children’s business. Check their drawers, check their backpacks. Some of this stuff looks like sweet tarts … Listen to your children. Pay attention. Be nosy,” said Chief Broussard.
At the end of the meeting, everyone in attendance was given an opioid overdose prevention kit that includes two doses of naloxone, a pair of gloves to avoid exposure to the ingested drugs and instructions on how to administer naloxone.
If you missed the town hall meeting, you have a chance to hear the program again at a second town hall meeting set for Monday, Oct. 23, 6 to 8 p.m., at Santa Fe Middle School.
To watch Alonzo demonstrate how naloxone is administered, see the video link below: