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WATCH NOW: Students may be dealing lethal fentanyl in West Fargo school, police say

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- West Fargo high school students may be using fentanyl in school, and some may be dealing the potent and potentially deadly drug, police and school officials say.


WEST FARGO, N.D. -- West Fargo high school students may be using fentanyl in school, and some may be dealing the potent and potentially deadly drug, police and school officials say.

School officials suspect furanyl fentanyl is in Sheyenne High School and West Fargo High School based on "knowledge obtained through student interviews and discussions with local law enforcement," West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Allen Burgad said at a press conference Friday, May 6. "Dealers appear to be students or recent graduates with ties to current students."

Police are investigating in both school, said Jerry Boyer, West Fargo's assistant police chief.

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While Boyer called the situation a "crisis," he cautioned he doesn't think use of fentanyl in West Fargo schools is widespread.

"I believe that this is a localized thing, a small event," he said. "This is not a representation of an entire school district or an entire school, entire student population. This is an incident involving a limited number of people."

Boyer and Burgad wouldn't comment on the specifics of the investigation, but it may lead to an increased police presence at West Fargo's high schools.

Furanyl fentanyl is a version of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times as strong as morphine. Area police have said they suspect fentanyl is responsible in some of the string of at least 10 fatal overdoses in the metro area in 2016, along with heroin.

Furanyl fentanyl is an analog of fentanyl recently being produced by some Chinese labs and it was, as of late April, legal to sell online in the U.S., according to a report by Stat News, an online health publication.

Boyer said it can easily be concealed in nasal spray or eye drop bottles. The drug can also harm someone if they accidentally come into contact with it because it can be absorbed through the skin.

'It's spreading'


A school resource officer in the West Fargo district says students are using furanyl fentanyl in the classroom, according to an email obtained by WDAY. The email said two students overdosed last weekend and more could be coming.

"When I saw it first I was like, 'Oh, this is eye drops.' Then I saw it in a couple other classes a few days ago, then I was like, 'Oh, well, this is not I think what I think it is, eye drops. it's probably more than it,'" said Hannah Tangen, a West Fargo junior.

It's scary how common fentanyl is becoming in schools, said Alexis Kjelland, a junior at West Fargo High School.

"I've heard of people who do it in the locker rooms," Kjelland said. "I've heard some people do it in the classroom when the teacher isn't there. It's spreading. Some people do it religiously, for lack of a better word."

West Fargo school administrators say that they were alerted to the possibility that furanyl fentanyl was present in the district's schools on Monday, May 2. Information was shared with high school staff Thursday and in two emails to parents in the district Friday.

"It was not until 1:15 PM on Friday, May 6 that we received actual confirmation from the police department of the confirmed presence of feranyl fentanyl at Sheyenne High School," the administration said in an email to parents Friday afternoon.

Friday's emails to parents came the day after a widely attended community forum addressing the recent spate of opiate overdose deaths in the region.

School officials urged parents to talk to their children about the drug's dangers and said informational meetings will be held next week at each school.


Students are being encouraged to report anything they see or hear that is out of the ordinary or concerning, and to the use the Text-A-Tip line. The tip-texting number for Sheyenne High is (701) 219-4722. For Community High and West Fargo High, it is (701) 541-2072.

Though the drug can be absorbed through skin, district officials emphasized that all schools are cleaned nightly, including desks and lunch tables, so it is "extremely unlikely" a student would be exposed to the drug by residue left on a surface.

West Fargo parents were reminded that students can't carry medication in schools unless they have forms signed by both a physician and the parent. Any students seen with nasal spray or eye drop bottles will be stopped to ensure they are approved to have those items.

District officials also said they will work with West Fargo police on testing, screening and search options.

'Trying our best'

Jeff Schatz, the Fargo School District's superintendent, said recent concerns about opiates "are a reflection of the community."

"I'm not quite sure to what extent we might have students involved in this. But, I think it would be something that we certainly are concerned about and we'll be talking about much more next week," Schatz said. "We need all people on board. That means parents need to be vigilant of activities their kids are involved in. The students need to monitor what's going on around them. When somebody sees something or hears something, certainly report it."


Schatz said the only incident he is aware of in Fargo schools occurred in late April, when a police dog was used to sweep the parking lot of Woodrow Wilson High School. The dog alerted to a car in the lot, and police say they found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in it. The school principal later contacted police and said a backpack belonging to the same 18-year-old student was found in a classroom and it allegedly contained a BB gun and a small amount of heroin. The student faces two felony charges.

At Moorhead (Minn.) High School, Scott Matheson, a student assistance counselor, said word of recent graduates addicted to furanyl fentanyl is filtering through the school.

"Like any other high school in our area, we definitely have students that know about it or know of somebody, typically a little bit older, that they've heard trying it. We haven't seen an explosion or a lot of kids in our school that are using. But it's definitely being talked about," Matheson said.

Matheson said the student assistance counselors monitor attendance and look for big fluctuations in behavior or grades that may indicate.

A Safe and Healthy Learners Committee, made up of representatives from every Moorhead school, plus social workers, psychologists and counselors, recently were trained on the signs and symptoms to watch for with furanyl fentanyl use by Moorhead police.

A student-led peer group also makes presentations on problems that include addiction. The group encourages students to reach out for help, and to break "the code of silence" when it comes to drug addiction, he said.

"We're trying to reach out to the kids early," Matheson said. "We're working on it. It's always a cat and mouse game. But we're trying our best."

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