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Hays CISD officials warn of fentanyl dangers while kids are out of school

A billboard with photos of three young boys says, "Fentanyl steals your friends"
Courtesy of Janel Rodriguez
Jarel Rodriguez started the Forever 15 Project after her son Noah died of fentanyl poisoning.

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Noah Rodriguez was gearing up for his sophomore year in high school when he died from fentanyl poisoning on Aug. 21, 2022.

Noah was one of six Hays Consolidated Independent School District students who died that school year after taking fentanyl-laced pills.

There was one student death in the last school year.

“Noah was a good kid, and sharing his story and letting kids know there is help out there if they’re struggling — that is how we keep his memory alive and how we fight this fentanyl crisis,” his mother, Janel Rodriguez, said.

Four of the deaths in the 2022-23 school year were in the span of a month over the summer. Hays CISD Chief Communication Officer Tim Savoy said school breaks mean there is less help available in the case of an overdose, and families should stay alert.

“It's not just summer; it's also Christmas break and spring break and the week we're off at Thanksgiving," he said. "And that's because during the day, if a kid is overdosing and they're at school, we have Narcan on campus. And we have nurses and adults that are trained now in spotting the signs of a potential overdose."

Awareness campaign

A few months before Noah died, he overdosed on cocaine. Rodriguez said she felt like that was a wake-up call.

“He was doing family things with us and he wasn't hanging out with his friends [who would encourage him to take drugs]. He even said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to die.’ So in August, when we get this phone call that this parent thinks that Noah overdosed, it was really confusing to us," she said, "because he had been doing so well."

After the deaths, Hays CISD launched a fentanyl awareness campaign and made Narcan, the overdose reversal spray, available on all campuses. School nurses administered Narcan 11 times during the 2022-2023 school year, compared to three times last school year.

The campaign includes a video of a student overdosing in an elementary school parking lot. Savoy said it has been the most effective element to help students understand the seriousness of the epidemic.

The district plans to pull back on the campaign, however, so students don't start tuning it out. The issue now is not making kids aware, but getting them help.

“The biggest challenge has been the limited availability of treatment for kids who reach out. That’s been wrenching for us,” Savoy said.

While students who need medical help are encouraged to reach out, Rodriguez said, treatment centers for teens in Hays County is limited. Through her nonprofit organization Forever15Project, she's developed relationships with rehabilitation facilities in Houston and San Antonio to close that gap and ensure all kids who need in-patient care are able to find it.

The work is not over

According to Hays County Sheriff Deputy Anthony Hipolito, a new wave of synthetic drugs is making its way to the drug supply. They're even stronger, he said, and combating them will require a countywide approach.

“It’s killing us. It’s killing our friends. It’s killing our loved ones, our peers," he said. "And at some point we have to get tired of going to funerals and having to deal with an epidemic that could be seeing a resurgence."

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