Other Views: Bill requiring fentanyl education in Washington schools deserves bipartisan support


Lawmakers may be in an abbreviated legislative session, but there's still enough time for them to pass important legislation that will ultimately save lives. House Bill 1956, and its companion bill, Senate Bill 5923, does just that.

By request from Gov. Jay Inslee, the legislation would require all public middle and high schools to educate students on the dangers of opioids, particularly the synthetic opioid fentanyl. It deserves strong support.

More than 1,000 people died from overdoses in King County in 2023, and 90% of them died from fentanyl. The figure is a 47% increase over 2022.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, calls for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with the Department of Health, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, and the Health Care Authority to review current substance-use prevention materials and collaborate on how to make them more relevant to the current opioid crisis. The agencies must also consult with tribes for input in the curriculum.

Some school districts already have incorporated information about the dangers of fentanyl in health education instruction. Under HB 1956, the information would become uniform, comprehensive and available to the public.

"This is a component, along with other components across the state, that will provide information to parents who may not be aware of what it is that they're looking at, or aware of the widespread epidemic that we're seeing with our youth," Leavitt told The Times editorial board.

Maria Petty is one of those parents. She lost her 16-year-old son, Lucas Petty, to fentanyl poising in 2022. She said a marijuana joint discovered in her son's bedroom was found to be laced with fentanyl.

She said she had warned her children about the dangers of drugs in general.

"What I didn't know to tell him is that fentanyl was out there and that it can kill," she told the House Committee on Education on Thursday, sobbing. "Since I didn't know myself, I didn't know to tell him. My hope is that this bill will provide families and youths with the education they need to avoid feeling like this."

Under the bill, which would cost about $7.2 million over four years, students from seventh through 12th grade would receive instruction on the dangers of fentanyl and other substance use by the end of this year, and information on the dangers of fentanyl would be made available on school districts' websites to parents and guardians. Also, the bill would allow for more frequent revisions to the health and physical education learning standards to prepare for whatever new drug wave next sweeps the nation.

"Youths need to understand the dangers," Leavitt said before the House Education Committee on Thursday. "We owe it to our youths to act now."