A mourning community of nearly 200 students, parents, school officials and community members came together Oct. 16 at Skyline High School.
Since the recent fentanyl overdoses of two Skyline students, Tom Beatty and Lucas Beirer, many have been desperately searching for answers — for solutions — to ensure no one else would meet the same fate.
The event focused on the steps the school and the district takes to educate and prevent students from drug and alcohol use. It also highlighted partner organizations and resources such as the Sammamish Police Department, EFR and Influence the Choice.
“A good sign of great schools and great organizations are ones that are constantly evaluating what they’re doing. Make sure that they are communicating with stakeholders, and constantly making changes to improve our professional practice,” Skyline High School principal, Keith Hennig, said as he opened the event.
It’s a difficult conversation to have, he said, but one that needs to happen. He said over the past several weeks he’s received questions from families asking him “‘What are you doing?” “How are you going to fix this?” and “What is Skyline doing?”
To that, he said it’s a “we thing.”
“This is a we thing because as parents, community, school students, staff — we have to be on the same team and we have to work together to successfully address this issue. We have a shared responsibility to do better,” he said.
While many parents said they felt the school “swept the issue under the rug,” and that the school didn’t care about what happened to the students, Hennig said that is not the case. Due to FERPA laws, no school is able to publicly release personal information regarding a student without parental permission.
Hennig spoke with Beirer’s parents the day of his death. The parents gave Hennig permission to release the details about Beirer’s cause of death in order to open up a conversation about substance abuse.
“How courageous is that for a family to just lose their son and say we need to open up a conversation about substance abuse. We need to be open and honest about things that are going on with our kids. We need to be open and honest about the things that are going on in our community,” Hennig said. “And I told [Beirer’s mother] that day, ‘…The choice that you’re making right now is going to save people’s lives.’”
Because of Beirer’s family’s permission, it opened the door for staff and students to learn more about fentanyl and opioid use.
Dr. Nicole Yarid, associate medical examiner with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, addressed the gymnasium of concerned parents and offered more information about the drug.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.
According to Public Health of Seattle-King County data, fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise in the county. The majority of the deaths are young and non-homeless men. There have been 141 suspected and confirmed drug overdose deaths in the county between June and September of this year.
Opioid overdoses hit a record high in King County in 2017, she said. The number of fentanyl deaths is increasing still, but not at an exponential rate.
Common side effects of an opioid overdose consist of sleepiness, hard to arouse, decreased and/or unusual breathing.
“Unusual breathing is a key sign of an overdose,” she said. “If they are someone who normally doesn’t snore and is snoring, or vice-versa, that’s a sign of an overdose.”
Skyline High School resource officer Nathan Greiert said most of fentanyl-laced opioids are coming from Mexico and China. And, heroin and fentanyl is one of the most common mixtures. When fentanyl is combined with a legitimate opioid, it’s “a lot like a chocolate chip cookie.”
“Fentanyl is a lot like a chocolate chip cookie. You can’t distribute the chocolate chips evenly in every cookie. Some pills have little fentanyl, others will have more,” Yarid said.
Yarid said 99.2 percent of all drugs purchased from the street are counterfeit — meaning the chance of drugs being laced with fentanyl, or any other illegal substance — is extremely high.
Students are typically getting these drugs from the street, Greiert said. Social media plays a large role in connecting students and dealers, and Snapchat is one of the most common platforms. The app allows for private groups that can be changed quickly to keep anonymity. Pills sold on the street are expensive too. Any given pill sold on the street typically sells for $20-$30. It can be as high as $50 a pill.
Skyline, as well as every other ISD school, has an anonymous online tip line for any student to report unsafe behavior. The online tip line was recently updated to encourage the reporter to direct the district to the people who have firsthand knowledge of the situation, activity or behavior.
“What we need is actionable, specific, credible information about what’s going on,” Hennig said.
Regardless of what information is reported, the school always investigates, he said.
As a direct result of the recent fentanyl overdoses of the two Skyline students, the city of Sammamish, King County Sheriff’s Office, Issaquah School District (ISD) and Public Health of Seattle-King County united Oct. 2 at a news conference to address the deaths. The news conference served as a public service announcement on the dangers of illegal substance abuse, and as a continued promise for the city and school district to work together to address the issue among local youth.
Issaquah School District (ISD) school board president Harlan Gallinger announced the district’s immediate plans to address the issue and provide more information and education to students and families.
“It will be the start of the healing process,” Gallinger said at the Oct. 2 news conference. “It’s brought to the forefront all the things we need to do as a district to partner with our city and the other school districts in our city and with our nonprofits to really work on prevention.”