Baldwin County Schools administrators warn of vaping, fentanyl on campuses; no specific incidents detailed

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
allisonm@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 12/2/22

FAIRHOPE — Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler paused and caught his breath before speaking.His voice shook slightly as he told the gathered media and school officials about …

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Baldwin County Schools administrators warn of vaping, fentanyl on campuses; no specific incidents detailed

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FAIRHOPE — Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler paused and caught his breath before speaking.

His voice shook slightly as he told the gathered media and school officials about losing his youngest son in a car accident at age 17.

"I don't want any parent to ever suffer that pain of losing your child," he said. "As an educator of 47 years I have seen more than my share of tragic deaths of students."

The emotional warning was issued in a press conference earlier this week that brought Tyler and a host of school administrators and health officials together to warn parents of their concern that drugs are making their way into schools.

Specifically, each speaker warned about vape pens. Vapes are electronic cigarettes, device that heat up a liquid to create a vapor you inhale. Tyler said there is concern that THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, and fentanyl is being passed to students in vape mixtures. Fentanyl is a lab-made drug that is 100 times more deadly than morphine and requires an amount the size of a pinhead to kill.

"Please don't take our message today as traditional drug awareness event. It's not," Tyler said. "This is a wakeup call to our Baldwin County communities about what is happening with this deadly trend. This is not about a drug problem in Baldwin County schools. Drugs are everywhere. Drugs are in our schools."

Ashley Simon, a clinical director with The Bridge Inc. — an adolescent drug and rehabilitation center — said students are being given drugs by other students to vape that contain fentanyl. However, none of the speakers could give the number of times fentanyl or marijuana has been found in a vape on a Baldwin County School campus.

Outside of schools, however, the rise in fentanyl-related deaths is mounting locally and nationally. The Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which covers multiple states, reported 1,069 fentanyl deaths in Alabama in 2021, up nearly 136% from 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported a national increase in deaths caused by synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Those numbers jumped from 57,834 to 71,238 earlier this year.

In 2017, Baldwin County had no drug deaths attributed to fentanyl. So far in 2022, there are at least 35 confirmed cases.

Officials said there have been no overdoses on school property and that the number of reprimands for drug use across the school system is far less than what occurs nationally. Administrators did not provide the number of students who have been disciplined for drug related incidents in Baldwin County Schools.

Tyler stressed the school system wants to make parents aware of what was happening and what dangers may loom.

Jon Cardwell, principal at Fairhope High School, said he speaks with his students daily about the dangers of drugs. He addressed the student body again during the Veterans Day assembly after learning of a students' death due to fentanyl at Selma High School earlier this month.

"In my 30 years teaching, I've buried several students and that's not something you ever want to do. That's why we rang the bell to talk about this today," he said. "Dab pens are becoming a concern. We don't know what's in them. Kids are essentially smoking synthetic marijuana while sitting in class. They're passing out and vomiting, and it's a fact that we are having to prepare ourselves for drug overdoses."

Baldwin County Schools has placed Narcan in every school across the district to respond specifically to an opioid overdose.

Joe Sharp, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said vaping is occurring in middle and elementary schools as well, which prompted the district to install Narcan at the elementary level, though electronic cigarettes on their own are not opioids.

Sharp did not have the name of the elementary school where a vape was found and could not give the number of times a vape was discovered in an elementary school in Baldwin County.

Ashley Barnhill, health services coordinator with the Baldwin County School System, said the school system has not had to use Narcan "at this time."

Cardwell pleaded with parents to help the school system keep drugs out of their children's hands.

"What makes me nervous is no one knows what's in these things kids are smoking," he said. "This isn't a school problem. This is community problem. Parents please be in your students' lives. Search their bags. Search their cars ... they're mine eight hours a day. They're yours the rest of their lives.

"I don't want to be greeting you at a funeral over something so silly as us not taking this seriously."

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