This year, the Berkeley High Health Center began offering free fentanyl strips to Berkeley High School students, in collaboration with the Harm Education Reduction Organization (HERO). HERO is a student-led organization that promotes harm reduction and aims to create a safe space for drug education through restorative justice rather then zero-tolerance.
The HERO club proposed the idea to bring fentanyl strips to BHS in response to rising fentanyl overdose rates in teenagers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl overdose rates in teenagers have doubled in the past three years. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs to increase the potency, but users are not always aware of its presence, as it is odorless and tasteless.
Fentanyl strips are small strips of paper that indicate the presence of fentanyl in a substance, which protects students from accidentally consuming fentanyl.
“(My) main concern was just how much more common fentanyl lacing was becoming and how, over time, the most common drugs to overdose on have shifted,” said Nina Thompson, the president of HERO. “At least at Berkeley High, almost no one is intentionally taking fentanyl.”
HERO operates upon the idea that some students will take drugs, but that harm reduction tactics and drug education are effective in promoting student safety.
Menaka Gentle, a Universal Ninth Grade Ethnic Studies teacher who teaches harm reduction, also believes that these fentanyl strips are necessary and will help protect students.
“It’s really important not to demonize or put down people that are experimenting, because that has never helped,” said Gentle. “Your brain is really plastic right now, which means that you’re basically hardwired to want to try new things and take risks. (But) some of those risks are really dangerous.”
HERO initially contacted the Health Center to establish a protocol for obtaining fentanyl strips. Currently, the club acquires the strips, then provides them to the Health Center for distribution.
HERO obtains funding for fentanyl strips from club members and a parent volunteer. The parent volunteer first donated fentanyl strips to HERO for club members to distribute at BHS and to assess interest among students. The parent also bought the second set of fentanyl strips. The club is currently planning fundraisers to help restock the strips.
Thompson hopes the fentanyl strips will be effective in preventing students from accidental fentanyl consumption.
“They greatly reduce the risk of overdose from fentanyl specifically, but it’s definitely not 100 percent,” said Thompson.
Gentle agreed with the projected helpfulness. “I think it’ll be extremely effective,” said Gentle. “Fentanyl has been the biggest killer with drugs for the past few years. And it’s in so many drugs. And since teenagers are at that age where they’re experimenting, and they may be trying new things, it could really help them and save their lives.”
According to Thompson, the HERO club has future plans to expand its drug and consent education to students to a greater extent along with informational announcements. They hope to provide other supplementary assets at school to further enhance student safety and provide the much needed resources.