State sends letters to schools to warn of opioid dangers

Published Sep 21, 2018 at 4:00pm

The state has sent a letter to school districts as part of continued efforts to raise awareness of dangers of illegal fentanyl, other opioids, and synthetic cannabinoids, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

The letter details the risks, including death, that are associated with the drugs and reminds school districts of resources offered by the state to educate students and communities, Cuomo’s announcement said.

The joint letter is from the commissioners of the State Education Department, Department of Health, and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. As use of the drugs among young people in the state continues to rise, said Cuomo’s office, he is urging school districts to “take action to address the ongoing crisis.” Injection drug use among high school students doubled from 2005 to 2015. In 2017, more than 6 percent of high schoolers reported having used synthetic cannabinoids.

While federally approved fentanyl can be administered as an anesthetic during medical procedures and under close medical supervision, new illicit forms are being sold illegally or are being mixed with heroin and other drugs, increasing their potency and the risks of overdose or death, said Cuomo’s office. Synthetic cannabinoids, meanwhile, are illegal and are often marketed to young people.

Synthetic cannabinoids consist of plant materials sprayed with unknown chemicals and despite sometimes being referred to as “synthetic marijuana,” do not contain marijuana.  

The letter to school districts also contains information about the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and encourages schools to have naloxone on hand to administer to students in cases where opioid overdoses are suspected.

A key message in the letter, said Cuomo’s office, is that school districts should use the New York State Addiction and Substance Use Disorder Educational Resource, available on a flash drive at no cost. Districts looking to order a flash drive can e-mail ogs.sm.gdc@ogs.ny.gov, or access the content at health.ny.gov/professionals/narcotic/docs/educational_resource_letter.pdf online.

Cuomo said “we will continue to bolster our efforts to keep this poison out of the hands of our children, and I encourage schools to join us in this fight by using the free resources available to them to keep students healthy and safe.”