Fentanyl seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on display at the International Mail Facility in Chicago, Illinois. US CBP

It was during the middle of our shift on January 13, 2022, working as a registered nurse at Hartford Hospital Emergency Department, when the news first broke. I will never forget that day; I was in my patient’s room when the news came on regarding three students from Sports and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford who were exposed to fentanyl. As the day went on a certain unease engulfed the department, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center was just 100 ft away from our adult Emergency Department and we knew that those three students were being treated there. 

Low-level chatter amongst coworkers, EMTs and police officers rippled throughout the departments. Being a tight knit health professional community, when an event occurs it affects us all. We found out during our conversations that the school nurse was the first responder on scene to begin performing life saving measures to one of the three students. She found herself unprepared emotionally and physically to respond effectively to treat the overdose.

Ask yourself, how often does a school nurse ever face a fentanyl overdose? How often does that nurse have to do CPR and let alone give Narcan to a student? We heard a few days later from a few EMT’s that the school nurse was traumatized from the whole experience and took some time off to mentally recover.

Rossmary Cartier

It does not take much to cause devastation. Fentanyl poisoning or overdose can occur through ingestion or inhalation. It takes as little as 2 mg of fentanyl to cause an overdose resulting in death. Unintentional overdoses are a direct result of a significant number of teen and adolescent deaths in recent years, with data showing that in 2020 a total of 84,179 people ages from 10-19 years old died from unintentional drug overdose, 81% involving fentanyl.

Fentanyl is coming into contact with our young population not as just a powder substance but laced in fake prescription pills such as Adderall and Xanax. Unaware High school and college students who are purchasing fake prescription medications online, presuming that they are authentic, are in reality ingesting fentanyl-laced pills that almost look identical to the real counterparts. In a matter of three months the DEA found 10.2 million fake prescription pills that were fentanyl laced. 

Sibela Sheikh

Now is the time to call into action and create awareness in regard to the dangers of fentanyl use and overdose. We must act now and provide education within our schools to students, teachers, and school employees. Everyone must be encouraged to better understand the effects of fentanyl on the human body and to have appropriate reversible overdose agents on hand such as Narcan. Narcan, known by the generic name naloxone, is widely used as an antidote to opiate overdose such as fentanyl.

As the fentanyl epidemic begins to creep closer and closer to the younger population, there is a desperate need for education and proper interventions. Younger generations need to be advised and warned about the devastating effects of fentanyl and overdosing. 

Connecticut was left grieving after the preventable death of the young student from Hartford. The city and surrounding towns took steps in addressing the growing crisis. The city of Hartford and the town of New Britain have started the process of obtaining naloxone kits and providing education on administering the antidote along with appropriate interventions that would follow.

As a nation, we have responded with a House Bill H.R 4582 Protecting Kids from Fentanyl Act of 2023 that has been introduced. The bill proposes to amend the public health service act to authorize the use of preventative health and health services block grants to purchase lifesaving opioid antagonists for schools. It also aims to provide related training and education to students and teachers, along with addressing other purposes. It would offer funds to purchase naloxone or other antagonists for schools and provide training to school nurses and teachers school administrators on how to administer naloxone. The bill also proposes fentanyl awareness classes to students.

We can no longer live our lives in ignorant bliss and watch as events unfold before our eyes in the hope that, “that will never happen to my family or in my town!” The truth is it can happen to anyone; fentanyl does not discriminate genders, race or age. The time to act is now. The federal bill is a start and will allow appropriate interventions to be taken in order to protect our young population while in the educational systems.

Creating awareness and educating the community does not stop with national intervention. We as individuals within a community have a responsibility to care for our younger population and give them the best opportunity to come out of the fentanyl epidemic alive.

Rossmary Cartier is a Registered Nurse working as a Travel RN currently at Saint Vincent’s Medical Center in the emergency department. Sibela Sheikh is a Registered Nurse working in the emergency department as a travel nurse.

Both are candidates in the Doctor of Nursing Practice-Family Nurse Practitioner program at Sacred Heart University’s College of Nursing.