ARLINGTON, Va. (7News) — Wakefield High School students returned to class Monday after a tough week.
Police say a teen was found in a bathroom unconscious from an apparent overdose on Tuesday and later died in the hospital Thursday. On Thursday, there were also reports of an armed trespasser at the school. A suspect was later arrested.
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The Wakefield High School principal says there are so many students in need who are hurting and this community has to work together. More support will be in place for students, including counselors and opportunities for students to debrief to talk about what happened and small group conversations.
“Facing the challenges we are facing as a community is going to require us fighting and working together as a community,” said Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore. “The schools, the government, the communities, our neighborhoods, it’s a very serious problem our children are facing and they need our help and it requires us to work together as one team.”
The Opioid Program Manager for Arlington County told 7News last week the area had never seen teen overdose numbers as they did in 2022.
7News requested opioid overdose numbers from Arlington County Police Department and found in 2019, before the pandemic, there were no juvenile overdoses. In 2020, the year the pandemic started, there was one non-fatal juvenile overdose. In 2022, that number jumped up to eight non-fatal juvenile overdoses.
In 2023, and it’s only early February, Arlington County has seen four juvenile overdoses. Three of them are non-fatal. The one fatal case was the incident where the Wakefield High School teen was found unconscious in the bathroom and later died in the hospital two days later.
Arlington County police also said three out of the four cases this year happened on school property.
“This is a circular problem,” said Arlington County board member Takis Karantonis. “We have to work on this as much as we can. We have resources, but have to discuss how best to apply them.”
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Board member Karantonis also said everyone should be involved in the conversation from officials and elected leaders to healthcare experts and the school.
“We have to be more attentive,” said Karantonis. “We have to invest more, invest more in our people, more in education and companionship with parents and students, and empower every single component of the solution.”
A school board vote decided Arlington schools would not have SROs in the building. The Wakefield principal explained a decision to bring them back would not be made at the school level.
“I don’t know if it’s gotten worse in terms of the number of kids that are using illicit drugs,” said principal Willmore. “It’s the deadliness of the fentanyl now that’s the most concerning.
Arlington County police say they are actively reaching out to and engaging with the younger population, building relationships, and that there’s a youth outreach unit.
When 7News asked if narcotics-trained K9s might be searching the schools for fentanyl, a spokesperson said the county does have these K9s available but there are no plans to use them at schools.