The Oregon Senate approved a bill Monday directing state officials to create a curriculum about the danger of fentanyl and other opioids.
Senate Bill 238 directs the Oregon Health Authority, the state Board of Education, and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to work together on the materials. The bill now heads to the House for consideration before it can become law.
The bill also requires that lessons teach students about the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which provides immunity to anyone reporting drug or alcohol use, or to those seeking medical treatment for an overdose.
Under the bill, school districts will be required to implement the lessons, which will be available in the 2024-2025 school year.
Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Gresham, is one of the bill’s sponsors. During a public hearing on the bill on March 7, Gorsek said education is a critical part of the state’s harm reduction efforts.
“By teaching them in schools of these dangers, including the proliferation of fake pills, we are, I believe, equipping our students with every tool they need to make better choices,” Gorsek said. “And should they or a friend overdose, to make a lifesaving call to 911.”
Several Portland students have died recently from suspected fentanyl overdoses, and Portland police recently responded to 11 overdose calls in one day last Friday. According to the Lund Report, there were 73 fentanyl-related deaths in 2021 among people ages 15-24 in Oregon.
SB 238 received support from key employee unions, the Oregon Nurses Association and Oregon Education Association, and Oregon Recovers, a nonprofit focused on addiction recovery advocacy.
Some Oregon school districts already teach about fentanyl risks, including Beaverton. The Oregon Department of Education has a fentanyl and opioid response toolkit for schools with sample messaging, but rather than requiring it be used, the ODE guidelines only “strongly encourage schools to adopt policies and practices” to prevent overdoses.
Parents of young people who have died from overdoses supported the bill with testimony at the March public hearing, including Brian Martinek, executive director of the Northwest Regional Reentry Center. Martinek stressed the importance of a statewide rule covering all 197 of Oregon’s school districts.
“Information is power. It allows people to make an informed decision,” Martinek said.
“While it would be nice to have all of the schools and districts in the state have awareness education in their curriculum for fentanyl and these other drugs on their own, the fact is some will not without the mandate.”