PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon is far from immune to this country's fentanyl epidemic. The state is first in the nation for addiction rates and last for access to drug treatment, and the influx of cheap, powerful fentanyl has only made matters worse on the ground.
Jennifer Epstein is all too familiar with the dangers of fentanyl. In December 2020, her 18-year-old son, Cal, overdosed on fentanyl and died.
"We have evidence on his phone he reached out to a dealer on social media, on Snapchat," Epstein said. "We know also that he did not know, he did not expect to get fentanyl."
That's among the many reasons why Epstein and her husband are working with Oregon state legislators on Senate Bill 238.
The bill calls for age-appropriate fentanyl curriculum to be added to existing drug and alcohol classes in Oregon middle and high schools. The bill also aims to educate youth on the laws that provide immunity to people who report fentanyl use or seek help for themselves or others.
"I believe this will save lives," Epstein said. "I believe kids need to hear this message from every angle. They need to hear it from their parents, doctors, their schools, on social media. Different kids will listen to different sources."
"As a former police officer and parent, I understand the need to equip our young people with the tools they need to avoid fentanyl on the streets," added Oregon Sen. Chris Gorsek. "By educating them on the dangers of this drug, and the ways they can seek help safely when someone needs it, we can curb the rise in youth drug overdoses.”
The introduction of Senate Bill 238 comes at a critical time. Just last month, a Franklin High School student died of a suspected fentanyl overdose. Two McDaniel High School students died in the same way in March 2022.
Things weren't much better in 2021. That year in Oregon, more than 60 people under the age of 24 died from fentanyl.
"The street drug scene is more dangerous than ever before and the kids aren't aware of this and they don't understand," Epstein said. "Actually many parents don't know the dangers of fentanyl and how it's deceptively being put into pills and powders."
Epstein believes educating the youth would go a long way in the fentanyl fight.
"We feel if we can alert them to the deception and the potency of how dangerous fentanyl is they'd be armed to make better choices," Epstein said.
A public hearing on Senate Bill 238 is scheduled for March 7 at 3 p.m.