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Neguse, Lamborn float bill to use COVID-19 funds to fight fentanyl in Colorado schools

September 27, 2022, 12:28 pm

Two members of Congress from Colorado introduced bipartisan legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow unused COVID-19 funding to be used for fentanyl education and prevention efforts in schools.

Rep. Joe Neguse

The bill, called the Protecting Kids from Fentanyl Act, allows Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding passed in COVID-19 relief packages to be used in K-12 schools for fentanyl education. The legislation comes from Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn and Democrat Joe Neguse as fentanyl remains the leading cause of overdose in the country. 

If the legislation is passed, schools would be authorized to use ESSER funds to buy naloxone or other opioid overdose reversal drugs, train school staff including nurses, teachers and administrators on how to administer the opioid antagonists, and provide fentanyl awareness classes or materials for students.  

“Throughout Colorado, fentanyl-related overdoses have increased exponentially, and the impact this crisis has had on families across our state is truly devastating,” Neguse said in a news release. “The Protecting Kids from Fentanyl Act is a bipartisan solution that will empower our K-12 schools to tackle this emergency. Everyone — especially our children — deserve to live in a safe community, and this bill helps achieve that goal.”

A Lafayette Democrat, Neguse’s 2nd Congressional District includes Vail and most of Eagle County after redistricting. Lamborn, a Republican, is based in Colorado Springs.

According to a news release from Neguse’s office, the congressmen introduced the legislation after hearing concerns over fentanyl-related overdoses from school and public health officials. The release cited Colorado Department of Education statistics noting that 29 kids age 10-18 died due to fentanyl during the 2021-22 school year.

Rep. Doug Lamborn

“The fact that children are dying from fentanyl overdoses in schools around the country is absolutely unacceptable,” Lamborn said in a news release. “While overdoses due to fentanyl are becoming more common among our youth, research shows that the availability of naloxone, along with overdose education, is effective at saving lives. This legislation will ensure that schools have the prevention tools and education necessary to protect our most vulnerable population from the growing fentanyl epidemic.”

Andrea Thomas — executive director of the Voices for Awareness Foundation, a Grand Junction nonprofit that promotes awareness around drugs including fentanyl — said that prevention education is “essential” to help kids learn about counterfeit pills disguised as legitimate medications. 

“During the Covid pandemic, a nation was educated on health safety, but sadly, we did not anticipate the lingering effects of isolation and social media on youth during the lockdowns. The fentanyl crisis snuck into our communities, taking advantage of one public health crisis to begin another more lethal crisis,” Thomas said in a news release. “Schools are eager to continue educating students in these changing times but lack the resources to do it. In-person school drug prevention seems the natural next step to safeguarding kids.” 

Earlier this year Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a bill making it a felony to possess more than one gram of a substance containing fentanyl. It also decreases the “cut points,” or amounts of fentanyl compounds, required to charge people with higher-level felonies for distribution. 

The law mandates drug treatment for people convicted of crimes involving fentanyl, requires county jails to provide medication-assisted treatment and withdrawal management, and makes several large, one-time investments aimed at reducing the harms associated with substance use, including $19.5 million for bulk purchases of naloxone.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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