By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Willamina students, sheriff's deputy likely exposed to fentanyl


Yamhill County has experienced “multiple documented fentanyl overdoses” in recent days, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sam Elliott said. One resulted in a Saturday, Jan. 14, fatality at a Willamina residence.

A Willamina High School senior and a sheriff’s office deputy were then hospitalized Tuesday, Jan. 17, after likely being exposed to fentanyl in a restroom on the Oaken Hills Drive campus.

The restroom is in a high school alternative education modular, where students complete online classroom work, Superintendent Carrie Zimbrick told the News-Register. Many students spend their entire school day in the modular.

It is a stand-alone building with two classrooms and a restroom.

A female deputy reported to the campus Tuesday to conduct a follow up case investigation, according to Elliott. At her request she was not identified, he said.

While on campus, Elliott said the deputy was asked by a staff member to assist on a restroom check, regarding what was described as a “suspicious odor.” The deputy responded to the classroom and entered the restroom.

She detected what Elliott characterized as a “strong acrid smell” and requested staff and students to evacuate the modular classroom.

The deputy began feeling ill, and after ensuring everyone had evacuated the modular, she began exhibiting symptoms of a possible fentanyl overdose. Some students also reported not feeling well.

Grand Ronde Tribal Emergency Services staffers responded, rendered aid to one female student, who was transported by ambulance to Salem Hospital. Two other students were checked out by medical personnel.

The on-duty sheriff’s office shift supervisor, realizing the deputy required medical attention, transported her in a patrol vehicle to the McMinnville hospital where she was held for observation and later released. Elliott said she is recovering.

“The results of a toxicity screening on the affected deputy are pending,” Elliott said. She reported experiencing tightness in the chest with a restricted ability to breathe, tingling in the fingers, loss of feeling in the lower extremities and a sensation of floating. “The deputy exhibited confusion, inability to speak coherently and the inability to articulate what had happened,” he said.

According to Elliott, another student may have been burning counterfeit M30 pills, possibly containing fentanyl, on a piece of foil in the modular bathroom, based on evidence collected and information obtained in the investigation,

“The student, it appears, brought the counterfeit pills into the building in an attempt to smoke them in the bathroom,” Elliott said.

Exposure to smoke from the pills being burned can result in significant health consequences, according to Elliott.

The Willamina student was identified and contacted by district/school staff members and deputies working the case. Elliott said appropriate action is being considered by the parties.

“The investigation will be reviewed with the district attorney’s office,” Elliott said. “It’s not an arrestable offense. It would be a violation under Ballot Measure 110, because of the amount, foil with burned residue.”

The district notified parents of the incident.

“This is our first experience with a drug of this nature and we relied on law enforcement and other first responders to provide direction in our response,” Zimbrick said.

Students are cooperating fully with the investigation.

“We had several come forward today (Wednesday) to provide additional information, which we are grateful for,” she said. “Students also expressed frustration and disappointment that this type of drug would be brought to school.”

Zimbrick said the district will follow up with the sheriff’s office to provide staff and students with education and training related to updated drug information.

“Mostly I want parents to feel that their children are safe at school and know their safety is our top priority,” she said. “In fact, staff were so focused on checking the health status of students yesterday (Tuesday) that it took quite some time to get a message out to families. We wanted to make sure we were sharing facts rather than suspicions. It wasn’t until late this (Wednesday) morning that we were informed of what the odor actually was.”

Elliott said the impacted classroom/restroom was ventilated by Grand Ronde Tribal Emergency Services and thoroughly cleaned by district staff, all of which was confirmed by Zimbrick, who said the areas are safe for occupancy.

Based on the clustering of overdoses in the West Valley portion of Yamhill County in less than a week, Elliott said there is concern of the regional distribution of a particularly potent batch of counterfeit pills.

Counterfeit pills are fake medications that have different ingredients than the actual medication, according to the Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement website. It says they may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient, or have the right ingredient but in an incorrect quantity.

They may contain lethal amounts of fentanyl or methamphetamine and often appear identical to legitimate prescription pills, and the user is likely unaware of how lethal they can be.

M30 is one of several common street names for these pills.

“It (fentynal) is a huge problem county wide,” he said. “That’s what deputies on the road are seeing. It’s becoming common place. We’re dealing with it every single day. Having people access, use and be in possession.”

Elliott said road deputies are equipped with naloxone.

It is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, according to the website, DrugFacts. It attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. Naloxone, however, has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system, and it is not a treatment for opioid use disorder.



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