Report outlines drug incident at Sequoyah High School
Officials said Narcan was administered after three staff members at a Monroe County high school were exposed to carfentanil Tuesday.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Two school resource officers and a school nurse were exposed to carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, at Sequoyah High School Tuesday, officials with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. The three staff members that were exposed were treated on the scene and at Blount County Medical Center, according to a report from the MCSO.
“The two officers and the nurse was given Narcan and transported to the hospital. All are stable,” MCSO Chief Deputy Chris White said.
WVLT News obtained an incident report from the MCSO, which details how the officers and nurse were exposed.
MCSO officials originally told WVLT News that the staff members were exposed to fentanyl through a 17-year-old student’s vape pen. MCSO officials posted to the office’s website that the officers and nurse were exposed to a “vape pen laced with fentanyl.” However, MCSO officials and the official incident report later confirmed that the drug the three were exposed to was carfentanil, which is much more potent than fentanyl, and that the drug was not inside the pen’s cartridge, but rather wrapped in a paper packaging and tucked into the device itself.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is itself 50 times more potent than heroin. Those that are exposed to carfentanil can have serious trouble breathing, drowsiness and clammy skin, the DEA website reads.
According to the report, the student was being escorted to the school’s office after “causing a disturbance.” While taking the student to the office, officers said the vape pen fell from his person. Officers reportedly took the student and the pen to the school’s SRO office.
A representative with the MCSO told WVLT News that the officers were then exposed to the carfentanil, which was in powder form on a paper packaging tucked into the vape.
Both officers experienced symptoms, lost consciousness and had to be administered with Narcan, a reversal drug. Sequoyah High School’s nurse also experienced symptoms, was administered with Narcan and was transferred to the hospital with the officers.
WVLT News spoke with Rick Lavoie, the MCSO Public Information Officer, about the incident, and he said that both officers were tested with a “handheld drug scanner” from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which identified the drug they came into contact with. Lavoie also said that there was no standard operating procedure put in place for the incident, the officers were exposed after touching the paper packaging.
Doctor of pharmacy and master of public health David Belew confirmed the possibility of carfentanil exposure for WVLT News. According to Dr. Belew, while it is “highly unlikely” for someone to see symptoms from touching a drug like carfentanil, it is possible for someone to breathe in enough particulates to cause a serious reaction.
“It is highly unlikely that a minimal exposure of fentanyl powder to the skin would even result in absorption of the chemical,” Dr. Belew said. “It is possible that prolonged contact ( like days) would give some absorption. Breathing is a different issue. One could certainly inhale a large enough quantity of powdered chemical to cause great concern or even death.”
Dr. Belew also confirmed the symptoms that the officers and nurse experienced, saying that those exposed to drugs like carfentanil could see dizziness, nausea, clammy skin and loss of consciousness. He also confirmed that Narcan is often used to treat overdoses like the ones the officers and nurses experienced.
While in the school office, the student reportedly attempted to leave, entering into a struggle with MCSO deputies. He was physically restrained and later taken to Sweetwater Hospital for possible carfentanil treatment, the report said. After being treated, he was given three assault charges and one possession charge and taken to the Blount County Juvenile Center.
WVLT News spoke with parents about the situation. One parent said they were unhappy with how school officials communicated during the incident.
“The school is not telling any of the parents what exactly is going on, only said that the kids are safe in the classroom. It’s just not safe for them to go into the hallways,” the parent said.
Parents were allowed to pick up their kids at any point in the day, according to Monroe County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Kristi Windsor in a statement to parents. She also outlined some steps the school is taking to prevent more drug-related incidences from occurring.
“We are already working with local law enforcement to move ahead with that plan, and parents and students should expect to see those drug dogs at our schools on a frequent basis in the coming weeks and months,” Windsor stated via email.
Windsor also said she plans to have staff trained on the signs and symptoms of drug use and how to respond to issues involving drugs.
“As always, we will continue to work diligently to ensure the safety and security of all of our students and employees on a daily basis, and we appreciate the cooperation of our parents and community members in educating our children on the dangers of drug use and experimentation,” said Windsor.
In addition to the training, school representatives closed the school Wednesday, Dec. 1 and Thursday, Dec. 2 for the school to be checked and cleared for re-entry.
The MCSO and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are investigating the incident, officials said.
Copyright 2021 WVLT. All rights reserved.