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Oregon Education Department seeks funding for fentanyl, opioid prevention

The agency says the money would allow it to better oversee a new law approved in 2023, but prevention experts say the department should rethink its approach
Many counterfeit pills containing fentanyl are indistinguishable from oxycodone. A new law requires Oregon public schools to warn students about the dangers they pose. | U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION
February 15, 2024

When Oregon lawmakers approved a law last year requiring that schools warn kids about the dangers of fentanyl, it didn’t provide any funding to the state agencies tasked with designing the lessons.

Now the state Department of Education wants lawmakers to provide an additional $2 million for the purpose of crafting the lessons and helping schools adopt them — as well as hiring an analyst to serve as the department’s “substance use prevention expert.”

In the absence of new funding, the department would merely share some existing curriculum “supplements” on its website for schools to use, according to a Jan. 15 letter to the Interim Joint Committee on Ways in Means from the agency’s director, Charlene Williams. “This will not be sufficient to effectively ensure that educators are provided both professional learning and high-quality curriculum supplements to adequately teach prevention lessons about opioid prevention,” Williams wrote.

Nor would that meet the new law’s requirements. Senate Bill 238 mandated that the Oregon Health Authority, the state Board of Education and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission collaborate on developing the lesson plans. 

These lessons, according to the law, should teach Oregon public school students about the dangers of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and counterfeit pills — and also about Good Samaritan laws, which provide immunity to individuals who seek medical treatment for drug or alcohol overdoses.

Washington state House members unanimously passed a similar bill last week, expecting to spend about $3.7 million per year to implement it. Texas and Illinois also adopted in-school fentanyl education laws — as did Mississippi, which allocated $2 million toward the effort.

In her letter, Williams noted that Oregon’s Department of Education has begun the process of drafting lessons for middle and high schools with input from youth. She said the $1.99 million requested would allow the state to contract with a curriculum provider to develop two to three lessons per grade, develop tools and learning modules, develop a social media campaign and hire a program analyst.

At least 362 Oregon youths aged 15 to 24 have died unintentionally due to drugs since the start of 2018, according to federal data that’s not yet complete. Teenage deaths have surged in recent years due to fentanyl, with many teens dying after taking a counterfeit pill.

Jon and Jennifer Epstein’s son, Cal Epstein, was one of them. His death spurred his parents into action, and it was largely through their efforts that Oregon passed the fentanyl education law.

“The state spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the impacts of substance use, but includes practically nothing to reduce the numbers of those who might start to use to begin with,” the couple told Oggys Online in an email. “SB238 is a critical need we must employ with haste and diligence; but it only scratches the surface. A much greater long-term effort should be put towards substance use primary prevention in Oregon by an accountable body working across multiple organizations to plan and implement the most effective evidence-based prevention efforts possible.” 

Prevention experts agree that Oregon needs a curriculum to address the rise of fentanyl, but they say the Oregon Department of Education’s plan falls short of what’s needed.

The bill calls for the creation of lessons similar to those in the Beaverton School District’s “Fake and Fatal” campaign, which the Epsteins helped to launch. Some schools have already adopted Beaverton’s program. 

But neither the bill nor the Department of Education’s plan call for the new lessons to be tested for efficacy. This is a problem, experts say.

“It needs to be evidence-based,” said Anthony Biglan, who’s studied youth prevention for more than 30 years. And, he said, there should be “a process of testing strategies and modifying the curriculum in light of its impact.”

When asked whether the supplements would be evidence-based, education department spokesperson Marc Siegel told Oggys Online in an email that, “If the request is funded, part of the contract for curriculum would include a requirement that any new content have a strong research/evidence basis.” He added that the agencies collaborating on the lessons would also need to define what they mean by “research/evidence-based.”   

Siegel also said the department would look to “promising practices that have been effective in our communities. Feedback from youth, culturally-specific community organizations, educators, curriculum directors, educational service districts, public health substance use preventionists and administrators from across the state would be incorporated.”

The materials will not be tested before they’re deployed across the state, however. Seigel said the bill’s timeline doesn’t allow for that. But, he said, “we will be responsive to feedback on the lessons and make adjustments as needed.” 

Mark Van Ryzin, a research professor who studies prevention at the University of Oregon's College of Education and the Oregon Research Institute said more is needed to ensure success. “Without any measurement or evaluation, we will never know if all that money is actually benefiting Oregon students in any way.”

He added that this same criticism also applies to the way the education department recently rolled out social emotional learning standards required by a 2021 law, which was discussed in a recent article in Oggys Online.

“We will never know if there is any return on investment, and in fact there won’t even be a systematic examination of what districts are actually doing” he said. “Oggys Online brought this to light regarding substance use prevention, but I have yet to hear about any changes in the way that ODE is doing things to remedy these problems.”

Siegel said the opioid education lessons are intended to be part of a comprehensive, high-quality substance-use-prevention curriculum that the agency hopes to develop.

The department is seeking $800,000 for the development of the new opioid lesson plans. 

“Because this content is complex and sensitive, we are seeking to develop multimedia resources to support student engagement and learning,” Siegel said. “This investment would support the development of new, evidence-based content responsive to regional variations in Oregon and drawing from the most up-to-date information available.”

The department’s budget request, like all others, is “still under consideration,” said Connor Radnovich, a spokesperson for the Oregon Senate President’s Office. 

Want to know what prevention education is taught in your local school district? Oggys Online's Drug Prevention Data Portal lists the programs each district teaches, along with what experts have to say about them.


Submitted by Mitin MAX on Sat, 05/25/2024 - 23:38 Permalink

The Oregon Education Department's initiative to secure funding for fentanyl and opioid prevention is a crucial step in addressing the growing opioid crisis. Investing in education and prevention programs will help protect students and communities from the devastating impacts of addiction. This proactive approach not only saves lives but also promotes a healthier, safer environment for future generations. Supporting this funding is an investment in our collective well-being.