By Mindy Ayala-Diaz, Ann Maydosz and Helena Edge

Fentanyl is killing Americans at record rates, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram said in her video message for National Fentanyl Awareness Day on May 9.

“Many of them didn’t know they were taking the deadliest drug our country has ever seen,” she said.

Sadly, children and adolescents have not been spared. More than 77% of adolescent overdose deaths in 2021 were due to fentanyl, according to a 2022 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But at Old Dominion University, a center housed in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies is working to make a difference.

ODU’s Center for Implementation and Evaluation of Education Systems (CIEES) recently created a video series to help school professionals inform parents, students and their communities about the deadly consequences of fentanyl and other opioids.

The series came about with the aid of a $108,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Working with a substance use disorder and addiction expert, CIEES created nine modules covering an overview of substances, bias-free language, the opioid epidemic, overdose prevention and effective approaches to treatment as they affect school-age children and youth. The series is available to school professionals and the public on the Virginia Career and Learning Center site.

“We are grateful for the foresight and care shown by the Virginia Department of Education in setting aside funding for this critical topic,” said Ann Maydosz, CIEES co-director. “Engaging, accessible and research-based videos like these modules help get the message out to Virginia communities.”

Since December, views of the series have increased daily through social media, digital marketing and VDOE channels, Maydosz said.

Fentanyl is especially dangerous because it is often combined with other drugs to create look-alike pills sold to young people as authentic prescription medications typically used for pain relief, for sleep or as stimulants.

Data from 2019 and 2020 indicated that adolescent overdose deaths increased 109% and that 44% of opioid exposure calls were for children under age 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Drug Abuse. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl accounted for a 182% increase in the death of youths ages 10-19, according to the CDC.

ODU’s first center dedicated to marginalized populations, CIEES works to improve outcomes for kindergarten through grade 12 populations with a special focus on students whose behavior or disabilities often result in negative school experiences. CIEES uses a problem-solving, evidence-based approach, emphasizing positive practices and systems change in education.

With $5.5 million in grant awards to directors Steve Tonelson, Robert Gable and Maydosz for 2023, CIEES’s systems change initiatives include positive behavior interventions and supports, teacher and school-based mental health professional recruitment and retention initiatives, training and technical assistance, multi-tiered systems of supports, and production of educational media for professional development.

The CIEES team works daily to support, inform and guide the staff of Virginia schools.

"We are all educators when it comes to children and youth,” Maydosz said. “We were honored to receive the funding for this project, but everyone in the community has a duty to protect young people from this danger."