When Opioids Invade Our Schools – And Fentanyl Kills
Posted on 02/07/18: Arizona Opioid Epidemic
Learning institutions come with their own set of standards on who they hire as well as the associated accreditations and ongoing verifications needed to ensure that this criterium continues to be met for administration at the highest levels, teachers and security staff. Is this what takes place only in a perfect world? Perhaps, but there are those invisible cracks where realism without prejudice slips through. And so it is with addiction. When opioids invade our schools, though happening for years, it’s a chilling reminder of how unsafe we all are to human vulnerabilities.
The Signs Are Easily Hidden Within the Skeletons of our Personal Closets
While attending football games each Friday night at a local high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, I could have been anywhere in America. During those evenings, I was just another Mom silently grinding her teeth every time the ball snapped on the field, watching her son get through another play, hopefully without injury. It was during one particular season that I met Kevin. A mild mannered, middle-aged man who worked security for the school. I befriended him as we were both going through divorce at the time and found common struggles to talk about, work through and come out feeling more optimistic, even if it was just for a day. He wanted to buy a house and thought I could help him with that.
Just after the season ended, my son called me from the school nurse’s office on a Monday. He told me Kevin had died from a heroin overdose during the weekend. Kevin was beloved by many of the students and staff; the shockwaves of his untimely passing put a cloud over the campus for weeks. There was a special assembly called in the auditorium where it was announced that counseling was being offered to those that needed it.
I learned that he was found on the carpet in his bedroom closet, syringe and heroin packets laying nearby. He left behind his young children, friends, family, coworkers and thousands of students who would miss his bright smile as their self-appointed student confidant, who would always give them ample warnings to follow the rules before ever issuing a punitive write up that would go on their records. He had faith and trust in others: I suppose it was a fatal flaw.
For weeks, I felt sickened by it. Over time, it was never spoken about again in my circle of friends and family. In fact, it wasn’t until I learned of a teacher’s misfortune in New Jersey a few months ago that the memories of Kevin came flooding back and I realized how small “six degrees of separation” really is to the whole population.
Teachers Need Teachers Too
Matthew Azimi is known for his dedication as a high school special education teacher in the Bronx. Focused on being a good father to his young children with another one on the way, he and his wife were building their own American dream. To supplement his income, Azimi worked the pickup line helping parents guide their kids into their cars at the end of each school day. From all fronts, it seemed that Azimi had a life rich with love and personal fulfillment. His wife knew he had a drug problem, years earlier, but how it affected him during their married life seemed to be downplayed – at least that was her perception.
There were times he intermittently continued to struggle with the demons of addiction. He went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings often and when he couldn’t attend in person, he would get support from a phone call. Again, Azimi shared his vulnerabilities with his wife. Addiction recovery is a process that can be riddled with moments of imperfection. We’re human, after all.
Finding Azimi slumped over in the faculty bathroom, late one afternoon, hurt the community deeply. Authorities and family members don’t know what brought him into active heroin use again. After investigation, law enforcement concluded that he purchased the new needle at a local pharmacy. The heroin was mixed with Fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid.
Overdose Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else
Rational thought cannot coexist with addiction. The stigma about drug and alcohol addiction may evaporate with increased awareness and advocacy or quickly vanish as more “mainstream” deaths are reported as a result of the opioid epidemic. Statistics show that more heroin use occurs in people under the age of 40. A common characteristic of younger adults is the notion of immortality. Many in this age group believe they are somewhat invincible and can bypass any risk to life that certain behaviors may predicate – such as drug abuse. Perhaps Matthew Azimi thought his need to numb his personal pain was just a “one more time” objective or that he was “luckier” than the other guys using.
A heartbeat is worth more than the odds of luck.
Fentanyl Presence Increasing in U.S.
In 2017, New Jersey authorities seized 45 kilos of Fentanyl while two men were in the middle of coordinating its transport. The amount apprehended could make enough lethal doses to kill off New Jersey and New York city populations combined. Is the integration of synthetic opioids into our cities a form of domestic terrorism? Something to think about. But those addicted to opioids are entrusting their lives in people who will never shed a tear about their deaths, the dealers.
Are School Administrators Doing Enough?
As opioid manufacturers and their distributors are waging war on our streets, are parents and teachers armed to protect children and students from harm?
One program in Boston, is seeing some promising results. Weston, Massachusetts has changed the Health Education model in its high schools, creating a tiered drug education curriculum for students. Each year as the students progress to the next grade, they experience a deeper dive into the subject of addiction. The most compelling results come from the personal stories shared by addicts in recovery (of similar ages to the students) and the accounts by mothers of addicts that are revealed in face to face interactions with the students. The larger take away of this program is that students are connected to addiction on a more personal level discovering that they are not that much different than the people in recovery. On an emotional level, they consider the never-ending pain they would bring to their mothers should they succumb to opioid addiction or alcoholism.
Students, Teachers and Parents Can Find Opioid Addiction Education Here
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