New Jersey students warned of fentanyl risks during spring break

“They think it’s something that, if their peers are doing it, it's safe,” said one youth coordinator. “They don’t see the radical risk or the radical dangers.”

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An up-close photo of fentanyl test strips.

This May 10, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of fentanyl test strips. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

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Many high school and college students in New Jersey are on spring break this week. The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, an advocacy group, is cautioning parents and students about a potentially deadly dangerous drug.

“It’s crucial for young people in particular, that may be thinking of experimenting with any sort of street drug,  [to understand] that there could be severe and deadly consequences,” said Angelo Valente, executive director of the partnership.

He said law enforcement officials in the Garden State are reporting that about 80% of all street drugs these days contain some amount of fentanyl, and 98% of heroin that’s been seized is cut with fentanyl.

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Fentanyl is a very strong synthetic opioid primarily used to help ease the suffering of people with late-stage cancer who are on their deathbeds.

“When mixed with other substances, it’s extremely deadly, it’s extremely powerful, it could be 50 times more powerful than heroin,” Valente said.

According to data from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, there were 2,564 suspected drug-related deaths in New Jersey last year.

“Most of those individuals that have unfortunately lost their lives to an overdose, there is fentanyl that can be traced as part of the illicit drugs they might have been experimenting [with] or using,” Valente said.“We hear so many stories from parents about the fact that their children were just experimenting for the first time, exposed to fentanyl and unfortunately were involved in an overdose situation.”

Angelica Mercado, a youth coordinator for the Camden County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Inc., said her organization is working with several schools this week, including the Voorhees Middle School, and counselors are talking to students about leadership, making good decisions and learning to say no.

“They’re being exposed to so many different substances, whether it’s vaping, marijuana, underage drinking,” she said. “The dangers associated with that is really not knowing the chemicals that are in it, the dangers that are in it.”

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She said kids 12 and 13 years old are living in a world where sometimes they are offered harmful drugs.

“They think it’s something that, if their peers are doing it, it’s safe,” she said. “They don’t see the radical risk or the radical dangers.”

Mercado said middle schoolers are being given a very clear message about drugs: to stay away from them and to not get swayed by misinformation on social media.

“You don’t know what’s in there, you don’t know where they got it from, you don’t know any of these risks and how it can affect you specifically as an individual, ” she said. “We have to get out of that mindset of what we see as normal and OK, and understand that opinion is not fact, that’s something that I really drive home to them when we’re talking about substances.”

Advocates are also trying to raise awareness about what to do in case of an overdose. Valente said naloxone should be administered if someone is showing overdose symptoms such as slowed or stopped breathing, bluish lips and nails, unresponsiveness and cool and clammy skin.

Many pharmacies in New Jersey are now selling naloxone without a prescription, and the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition will provide free naloxone to anyone who requests it.

Valente said awareness about the dangers of fentanyl is rising among teens, but it’s still important for parents to sit down with their kids and talk about it.

“Unfortunately there are thousands of families throughout the state and throughout the country that are losing loved ones to experimentation and use of illicit drugs that are laced with fentanyl,” he said. “We believe there is no safe street drug to experiment with.”

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