The Washington Post

Fentanyl suspected in deaths of 2 teens

Pr. William authoritie­s remind community that opioids crisis persists

- BY JASMINE HILTON

Two teens died within a twoday period in Prince William County in what police say could have been overdoses connected to fentanyl-laced counterfei­t drugs.

Prince William County police issued a youth community awareness warning Wednesday about illicit drug use following the deaths.

First Sgt. Jonathan Perok said police do not know whether the death of a 15-year-old boy from Woodbridge and that of a 14-yearold boy from Dale City are connected. But police say the reports from Sunday and Tuesday both appear to involve counterfei­t forms of Percocet, sometimes known as “Perc30,” laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl, in even its smallest dose, can be deadly, Perok said. The deaths of the teens come as authoritie­s in the region continue to warn against rising deaths as a result of drug overdoses involving fentanyl.

“We’ve been harping on, just like every jurisdicti­on I think across the country has been harping on, the opioid epidemic, that hasn’t gone away,” Perok said.

Percocet contains oxycodone, which is an opioid, and the pain reliever acetaminop­hen.

The official causes of death for the teens are awaiting results from a toxicology report by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Police are investigat­ing the source of the drugs.

Lisa Madron is the executive director of Prince William County Community Services, the public behavioral health provider in greater Prince William. She said in a statement that the agency is “aware and very concerned regarding the increase in opioid use and dependence among youth in our community and across Northern Virginia.”

Madron said the sale and distributi­on of Perc30s — pills with fentanyl pressed into them — are driving much of the problem.

“These pills are what many of our opioid-dependent youth are using,” Madron said.

Illicitly pressed pills are nearly identical to legitimate oxycodone or Xanax tablets, making it difficult for users to spot them, said Kathrin “Rosie” Hobron, statewide forensic epidemiolo­gist for the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“They’re thinking it’s under the assumption they’re getting something else that’s relatively a ‘ light high,’ if you will, but then it ends up being fentanyl, unbeknowns­t to them,” Hobron said.

In a recent report, Hobron found that fentanyl, including prescripti­on, illicit and fentanyl-like drugs, caused or contribute­d to 76.5 percent of drug overdose deaths in Virginia last year.

“They’re just mixing things together, and then they divide it up, so you could have one pill with almost nothing and then another pill that has a huge volume [of fentanyl],” Hobron said. “It really is kind of a shot in the dark, and that’s what’s really scary.”

The opioid crisis is a concern across the region. In the District, 10 deaths were linked to a batch of fentanyl in Northeast, police said, the second mass-casualty event involving fentanyl-laced drugs in the city this year. Last

year, the Maryland Opioid Operationa­l Command Center reported that, in the first half of 2021, “fentanyl was involved in 1,129 fatal overdoses.”

The Prince William County Police Department advised parents and guardians in the community awareness message to take “immediate action” to talk with young people about the dangers of drug use. The department also said help is available through Prince William County Community Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administra­tion, which provides treatment location services.

Community Services has also been coordinati­ng brainstorm­ing sessions since January to “examine the scope of the problem, current gaps in services, and strategies for addressing the treatment needs of youth struggling with opioid use disorders,” Madron said.

“There is great urgency to address the issue of youth with OUD [opioid use disorders], and we are exploring every option within the broader context of a lack of services,” Madron said.

She said residentia­l treatment options or medical care for youths dealing with substance abuse is limited or doesn’t exist. And she said other options to address abuse need to be paired with therapeuti­c treatment.

Victor Mckenzie Jr., executive director of the Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia (SAARA) and secretary of the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority, said there needs to be more investment in the behavioral health-care system.

The Opioid Abatement Authority will provide financial support to Virginia agencies, organizati­ons and localities to help prevent and treat opioid use disorder, Mckenzie said. The funds come from opioid litigation settled against drug manufactur­ers, distributo­rs and others who were sued nationally, Mckenzie said.

SAARA has advocated for more specialist­s who have recovered from substance abuse themselves to help people dealing with addiction. The group has also advocated for more recovery residences not just in medical facilities but also in neighborho­od settings and education on overdose prevention and how to administer Narcan, Mckenzie said.

“In our society, unfortunat­ely, we treat addiction as a moral failing versus the complex disease and diagnosis that it is,” Mckenzie said. “For so long, we’ve treated addiction with punishment . . . versus providing the resources it needs as a public health crisis.”

“You could have one pill with almost nothing and then another pill that has a huge volume [of fentanyl].” Kathrin “Rosie” Hobron, Virginia forensic epidemiolo­gist

 ?? SARAH L. VOISIN/THE Washington POST ?? Police Sgt. Peter Johnson talks about the signs of drug abuse last year while the Community Opioid Prevention Education trailer was parked at Montgomery County police headquarte­rs in Gaithersbu­rg.
SARAH L. VOISIN/THE Washington POST Police Sgt. Peter Johnson talks about the signs of drug abuse last year while the Community Opioid Prevention Education trailer was parked at Montgomery County police headquarte­rs in Gaithersbu­rg.

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