PORTLAND, Ore. — The last 18 months have rocked the Beaverton School District to its core. Superintendent Don Grotting says drugs and overdoses have led to the sudden deaths of several students.
"Teenagers who had hopes and dreams and plans," he said. "These teenagers had families that loved them and are still coming to grips with their losses."
These families' unimaginable pain is beyond upsetting to local law enforcement and health officials, but sadly not surprising.
"We're seeing an increase in fatal drug overdoses across the metro region and mirroring national trends," said Dr. Jennifer Vines of the Multnomah County Health Department. "We believe counterfeit opioid pills containing fentanyl are driving this trend."
Dr. Vines says fentanyl is a man-made version of morphine, only much stronger. The smallest amount can be deadly.
"Anyone who gets pills from anywhere other than a pharmacy should assume they're counterfeit and contain deadly amounts of fentanyl," Dr. Vines said.
Just how dire is it in the Portland metro area?
KGW has learned that so far this year the Westside Interagency Narcotics Team in Washington County has investigated 14 overdose deaths. Ten of those are suspected of being caused by counterfeit prescription drugs containing fentanyl.
"In the same time frame in 2020 we investigated three," said Sgt. Danny DiPietro of the Washington Co. Sheriff's Office. "In 2019, in that same time frame, we investigated only one."
In 2019, law enforcement in Oregon seized 79,000 fentanyl pills. In 2020, they seized more than 700,000 fentanyl pills, many of which were counterfeit.
"They're sold on the street for as little as $10 to $15," said Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese. "It's incredibly potent and dangerous."
That's devastatingly clear in the Beaverton School District. Superintendent Grotting is begging parents to get educated and talk to their kids.
"It very well could be a conversation that saves their lives," Grotting said. "This is truly an epidemic and we need to get ahead of it."
On Thursday, the Beaverton School District is hosting a virtual community conversation on fentanyl. A husband and wife, who lost their son to suspected fentanyl poisoning in December, are among the speakers. You can listen to the conversation on the district's Facebook page or YouTube page.