ROCKVILLE, Md. - Montgomery County school officials joined elected, and public safety leaders Thursday for a news conference addressing the alarming rise of illegal opioid use — especially fentanyl — within the county’s youth.
It’s "all hands on deck" for the county leaders as many of those impacted are Montgomery County Public School students.
"For anybody who’s looking at this saying, ‘Not my child, this is not my issue, I’m so glad,’ I’m telling you that is not true," said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told those in attendance that what prompted this gathering was the recent death of a 15-year-old, found dead of a suspected overdose by her mother, on Saturday morning.
That mother, Edith Montalvan, emotionally called for more to be done. In a video shared with FOX 5, she explains how she tried to find her daughter help for her daughter’s addiction. However, a big problem the mother ran into was that the programs available to them are voluntary.
Montalvan explained that her daughter, sick with addiction, refused the help. FOX 5 was told Ashleigh Edwards was a John F. Kennedy High School student in Wheaton.
Heartbroken, Edith Montalvan is now asking for help again. This time, she needs money to help cover the costs of her daughter’s funeral.
A friend of the family and community activist, Omar Lazo, said he also tried to help point Ashleigh and her mother to available county drug addiction services.
"I think the most important message is parents need to know these drugs are out there," Lazo told FOX 5. "Sometimes, you don’t even know that your children are taking these drugs. And all it takes is one drug, one pill that your child takes that could end a life and you’ll end up like a lot of these parents here, that have to wake up to a son or daughter that’s passed away in their sleep."
In new data shared on Thursday, Montgomery County police noted a 120% increase in youth overdose fatalities from 2021 to 2022. Police said there were five fatal overdoses of kids 17 and younger recorded two years ago, compared to 11 deaths this past year.
When asked about the need for more intervention when parents are unable to force their children to get the help they need, MCPS Superintendent Dr. McKnight supported the comments shared in the news conference by a parent who also previously lost their child to an overdose.
"Ms. Suarez, was, she [spoke] about it. She spoke about how at the state there is an opportunity that we have to address in Maryland around making or supporting those who need the help to get that," Dr. McKnight said, "and that in some cases, means not making it voluntary. So I think, no one can speak more eloquently than she did about that, and I think that’s a place for us to start."
"Earlier when I mentioned the importance of everyone in a community being involved, and I continue to look at this from a young people's perspective, sometimes even when you’re dealing with issues, you try to think about where are the support systems and structures that exist,"Dr. McKnight continued. "We ask in our schools, you know, is there a trusted adult you can go to? And I’m sure that’s a question in families they ask, ‘Is there an adult you can talk to? So the more that our community members are aware of what it is that we’re dealing with, the more that we can increase the mentorship, the support, the partnership beyond the school system and to the families so that through all these layers, we’re working to make sure someone is able to get through to a student – that’s when I think we’ve found the answer."
Chief Jones noted the increased use of illegal opioids and fentanyl is not impacting any specific demographic. It’s impacting everyone. He also noted that while previously, police saw many accidental overdoses (for example, a young person thinks they’re taking a Xanax pill and overdoses by purchasing a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl), now police are seeing more young people who took fentanyl pills, knowing it’s a potent synthetic drug.
Some parents had previously expressed frustration feeling that the school system was not exactly sharing what was going on in their school community. FOX 5 learned there is some truth to that. An MCPS spokesperson confirmed the school system is not allowed to report specific overdose cases due to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and HIPPA laws. These are student and health privacy laws, respectively.
The spokesperson said the school system can only report trends or a fatal student overdose if the parent/guardian gives permission to share.
State's Attorney John McCarthy tried to warn parents that children do not need an addiction to fall victim to an overdose. The state's attorney said that every one in four pills sold in the community has enough fentanyl to kill you, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
McCarthy does want parents and community members to share that there are Good Samaritan laws in place if you do witness 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. There may be drugs there. There may be – 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," McCarthy said.
Montgomery County Public Schools is hosting a Family Forum on Fentanyl and life Saving Narcan Training on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. at the Clarksburg High School Cafeteria located at 22500 Wims Rd., Clarksburg, Maryland.