Two Skyline High School juniors have died by suspected fentanyl overdoses within the last two months. The city of Sammamish, King County Sheriff’s department, the Issaquah School District and the Public Health of Seattle-King County came together to address the deaths as one on Oct. 2.
Tom Beatty, a 16-year-old junior, died Aug. 11. Lucas Beirer, also a 16-year-old junior, died Monday, Sept. 30.
“Losing any member of our Skyline family is extremely difficult,” said Keith Hennig, Skyline High School principal, in an email to the Skyline community. “Words can’t express the shock, pain and sadness I felt upon learning of our loss, and I can only imagine the impact for those more closely connected with these young people.” Grief counselors and support have been made available to Skyline students.
Preliminary results show both teens died of fentanyl overdoses, Johanknecht said at the news conference on Wednesday, Oct. 2 in downtown Seattle.
“We are one today to speak to you about how we’re coming together for a very important public safety warning today,” Johanknecht said.
While the investigation is still ongoing, Johanknecht said, officials believe the two teens most likely ingested what they thought were legitimate oxycodone tablets when, in fact, they were “dangerous, counterfeit drugs”—meaning the drugs were traced with other toxic drugs, like fentanyl.
Within the last few days, there have been five probable overdoses in King County involving blue pills containing fentanyl.
According to Public Health of Seattle-King County data, fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise in King County. The majority of the deaths are young and non-homeless men. There have been 141 suspected and confirmed drug overdose deaths in the county between June and September of this year.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths are typically caused by drugs made and sold through illegal drug markets.
Johanknecht said it should be assumed any pills sold on the street is not purely the advertised pill, and contain deadly amounts of fentanyl. The most common pills that contain fentanyl are M30 pills—typically light blue or white. V48 and A215 pills, although less common, may also contain fentanyl.
“You can’t smell or detect fentanyl,” said Brad Finegood, Public Health of Seattle-King County strategic advisor. “You can’t determine if it’s real by looking at it.”
Fentanyl is most commonly mixed in pills to resemble oxycodone, percocet and morphine. Fentanyl can also be found in powders and some liquids.
“It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine,” associate King County medical examiner Nicole Yarid said. Johanknecht said there’s no way to trace a specific fentanyl-laced pill to a specific illegal distributor because there is no consistency among the dealers in the way they mix the pills.
Earlier in September, detectives seized more than 12,000 fentanyl pills in a drug bust at a Sammamish home. One person was arrested in the bust. It’s unclear if the drug bust is related to the recent overdose deaths.
Addressing the issue
During the investigation, youth told police many are buying and consuming drugs off the street in a chase “of a new high,” Johanknecht said.
“I want to warn them and parents and our community members, that what they’re chasing instead is death,” Johanknecht said.
Sammamish Mayor Christie Malchow said parents, students and the greater community are heartbroken over the losses of the two Sammamish students.
“I want to assure the parents, students and community members that we will not stand in our silos,” she said. “We will work with our multiple school districts that cover the city of Sammamish. We will work with the children. We will work with the parents to find solutions and get at the root issue. This will not be a one-off conversation in our city….[We want to] make sure that it never happens again in our community.”
The city of Sammamish has a drug take back box for anyone to drop off prescribed and illegal drugs at any time.
“If there are drugs in our homes, we need to get rid of them,” King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert said. “It is easy to take them and drop them off and no questions asked…We need to make sure that we’re protecting all of our kids.”
Issaquah School District (ISD) school board president Harlan Gallinger said the district is working to support its students and families during this time.
To address the recent deaths of the two Skyline students, Gallinger said there will be an event for the Skyline parent community focusing on the steps Skyline takes to educate and prevent students from drug and alcohol use, as well as introduce partner organizations—such as Sammamish PD, Eastside Fire and Rescue and Influence the Choice and discuss resources available for students and families.
“Our hearts ache for our students and school communities that have been and continue to be impacted by the devastating effects of opiates…We have invested in additional counselors and Swedish Hospital mental health specialists in every secondary school,” ISD said in a statement. “More than two weeks ago we reached out to the city of Sammamish to discuss the impact of opiates and the role of law enforcement in our schools and community. We intend to engage similarly with all our city partners…We know that talking about it is not enough.”
A Drug & Alcohol Use in Our Community event will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 16 at Skyline High School.
“It will be the start of the healing process,” he said. “It’s brought to the forefront all the things we need to do as a district to partner with our city and the other school districts in our city and with our nonprofits to really work on prevention.”
Beirer’s family released a statement to the Skyline community on Oct. 2.
“Unfortunately, Lucas’s life was taken early because he took a street-sold Percocet pill laced with Fentanyl,” the family statement said. “We are sharing this information today with the hopes that it will motivate other young adults and families to get the help they need and to encourage an open dialog concerning the crisis in our schools and our families. This is not something families should hide or be ashamed of. We need to come together as a community, not be afraid to be honest and open about our struggles, let go of judgement, and help each other and our children find help.”
To learn more about fentanyl visit the Public Health of Seattle-King County website online at https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health.aspx.
To learn more about the upcoming Drug & Alcohol Use in Our Community event at Skyline, visit the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/2422942348027899/.