State officials turn to schools in opioid fight

Legislation would require fentanyl-use prevention education once per year

OLYMPIA — As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage Washington and the rest of the country, state officials are considering new policies to curb youth overdoses and addiction.

Washington’s Department of Health is offering opioid overdose reversal medication, known as naloxone or Narcan, to every public high school in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked the Legislature to pass a bill requiring education on opioids in schools.

And at the request of Lake Washington High School students, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, has introduced a bill to require all public school districts to keep naloxone in high schools.

Washington has seen a dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths among young people, particularly due to fentanyl, a cheap and devastating drug.

According to the Department of Health, rates of opioid-related fatalities among adolescents ages 14 to 18 surged almost threefold from 2016 to 2022. The agency says the increase can largely be attributed to fentanyl.

In 2022, at least 31 adolescents ages 10 to 17 and 157 people ages 18 to 24 died from an opioid overdose in Washington, according to Department of Health data.

The state’s efforts are in line with an October 2023 letter from the U.S. Department of Education and the White House drug policy office that encouraged schools to educate students about the opioid epidemic and to keep naloxone on hand.

Nationwide, research finds about 22 high school-aged adolescents died each week from overdoses in 2022, driven by fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription pills. Researchers say teens are often unaware of how likely it is for pills to be laced with fentanyl.

During a Thursday committee hearing, legislators heard emotional testimony in support of opioid education in schools from Maria Trujillo-Petty, who lost her 16-year-old son, Lucas Petty, to fentanyl poisoning in 2022.

“High school is the age that kids feel invincible,” said Trujillo-Petty, a mother of four. “It’s our job as parents and as educators to ensure that our youth is being properly educated and supported through this devastating epidemic.”

The opioid education bill, Senate Bill 5923, requires schools to give opioid and fentanyl-use prevention education at least once a year to all students in seventh and ninth grade. Under the bill, state education officials must also include substance-use prevention in health and physical education learning standards for middle and high schools in time for the 2024-2025 school year.

Representatives from the Office of the Governor, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, educator groups and students at Oak Harbor High School were among those who testified in support.

Only one group, the Washington Association for Substance Misuse and Violence Prevention, raised concerns, asking legislators to involve local community providers in the bill’s proposed opioid education curriculum.

While more districts are trying to warn students about fentanyl, it appears SB 5923 would impose the first requirement for education about the drug in Washington’s schools.

Naloxone in schools

A 2019 law requires school districts with 2,000 or more students to have at least one naloxone kit in each high school. But Lake Washington students who testified on Thursday said Senate Bill 5804, which would require naloxone in high schools of all sizes, is necessary.

Theodore Meek, a student at Lake Washington High School, said more than half of the state’s districts have less than 2,000 students and encompass tens of thousands of Washington’s students. And Sophia Lymberis, a senior at Lake Washington High School, named individual high-schoolers who have lost their lives to an overdose.

“Whenever a student has an overdose, more than just one person is impacted. Students, parents, teachers and administration all experience the collective trauma that comes with witnessing an overdose,” Lymberis said.

“As a state, it is inexcusable that we have the resources to give children another chance at life, but do not yet have the legislation to ensure that our students — my classmates — are protected,” she added.

First responders and police officers also added their names to a list of supporters backing the bill with the naloxone requirement for schools. No one testified against the legislation.

In the 2022-2023 school year, schools reported at least 42 uses of naloxone.

Carrying naloxone has increasingly been touted by experts and advocates as a life-saving harm-reduction strategy. In August, the Food and Drug Administration approved naloxone for over-the-counter use, and it’s now available in drugstores for as low as about $50 for two doses.

In April, the state Health Care Authority launched a campaign called Friends for Life, encouraging young adults and teens to carry naloxone and training them on how to use it.


Grace Deng writes for the Washington State Standard (, an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

More in Politics

Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, left, and Democrats Patrick DePoe, center, and Kevin Van De Wege, all candidates for state Commissioner of Public Lands, met before the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday to discuss their priorities for leading the Department of Natural Resources. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)
Fires are top priority for Commissioner of Public Lands hopefuls

Candidates want to increase state harvests

League of Women Voters sets candidate forum schedule

Hopefuls for state seats, county commissioner position invited to debate

From left to right, State Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, state Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, Port Angeles attorney Graham Ralston and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, all candidates for Washington’s 6th Congressional District, appear before the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday to answer questions about their priorities for serving in Congress. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)
Congress hopefuls meet for a forum

Candidates to focus on bipartisanship

Clallam PUD candidates cite costs as top priority

Three hopefuls line up for six-year board position

More candidates join local races

Third declares for state Senate seat

Packed races begin to emerge

Political hopefuls file intent to run

Heather Dudley-Nollette.
Bayside director to run for Jefferson County commissioner

Heather Dudley-Nollette seeks District 1 seat

Port Angeles City Council hopefuls Kate Dexter and Travis Berglund answer questions during a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)
Port Angeles mayor to run for county commission

Dexter has supported climate action plan, affordable housing

Emily Randall, left, and Hilary Franz.
Stalwarts take sides in race for Kilmer’s seat

A growing constellation of Democratic Party influencers are choosing sides in the… Continue reading

Online learning keeps rising among state’s K-12 students

Online learning for Washington’s public school kids is here to stay. That’s… Continue reading

Jefferson County turnout tops in state

More than half registered voters handed in ballots

Battle narrows to Biden and Trump

Tuesday’s primaries give each the delegates needed for a November contest