Lawrence police, school district to team up for forum on fentanyl risks

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An upcoming forum aims to help attendees understand the risks of illicit fentanyl with the goal of reducing the drug’s impact on the community.

The Lawrence school district, in partnership with the Lawrence Police Department and a cluster of other agencies, will hold a community forum on fentanyl for parents and community members from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. 

The district will also host assemblies on the fentanyl crisis for Lawrence and Free State high school students on the same day. 

Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart came up with the idea, which quickly gained traction. 

“The school district’s response exceeded our expectations,” said Laura McCabe, a spokesperson for the police department. “In fact, the response from all our partners was amazing. Not only were district leaders happy to invite us into the schools, but they quickly made the decision to organize an all-school assembly at both high schools.” 

The assembly will include representatives from multiple “phases of the fentanyl crisis,” McCabe said. Among the speakers are Kansas City FBI’s special agent in charge, an FBI drug task force officer, and LPD school resource officers. 

Speakers will address topics such as the health risks and legal system outcomes of fentanyl abuse. There were 25 overdose deaths in Douglas County in 2021, and 16 involved fentanyl, according to the flier for the event. 

“High school is a vulnerable time for many,” McCabe said. “Law enforcement deals with the repercussions of drug use and the legal system sees the outcomes. We want students to get the full picture.”

Members of the LPD hope the event cultivates an increased awareness, McCabe said. 

Lawrence Public Schools have used a series of community forums and assemblies to educate students and the community since August 2022. The forums enable Lawrence schools to go beyond academic instruction to support students as they gain the skills to make positive life decisions promoting health and well-being, district spokesperson Julie Boyle said. 

“This builds on the Let’s Talk Safety series we began in August in collaboration with the Lawrence Police Department’s School Resource Officers and other community partners,” Boyle said in an email. “This time the Let’s Talk Safety topic is drug education and prevention, which is a part of our high school health curriculum.”

Topics in the past have included violent incident training, support for students’ mental health and social-emotional wellbeing, and the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between home and school. 

“I believe many people get bombarded with sensational words like ‘crisis’ and some become immune to hearing them,” McCabe said. “This educational and informative tour will help attendees understand what makes fentanyl different than other drugs and why it is a crisis nationally and here in Lawrence.” 

McCabe encourages parents and middle school students to attend. 

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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