MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — Parents in Monroe County are demanding answers after a drug incident locked down Sequoyah High School and sent three people to the hospital after being exposed to fentanyl, saying the problem has been growing for months with little being done to stop it.
Deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday this was the first time they've dealt with fentanyl inside the school, which sent two SROs and a nurse to the hospital out of precaution for exposure to the substance inside a vape pen brought in by a 17-year-old student.
The overdose-reversal medication naloxone was given to the three who were exposed, but it is still unclear if any were showing symptoms of overdose at the time. The teen who brought the vape pen into school was taken into custody.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said deputies have had to respond to several drug incidents at Sequoyah High School over the school year, saying deputies responded to four drug overdose calls in the school since August.
The main drugs deputies confiscated over the past few months from teens: Delta-8 THC products such as gummies, candy and liquid vape cartridges.
"Bring it on a school bus or something like that. They drop a couple gummies or give them to a first grader or something like that, that could be very problematic," Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy Dalton Rinehart said.
Deputies said most of the overdose calls they responded to at the school were from teens who claimed to have only used Delta-8 products, saying those teens reported adverse effects such as extreme paranoia and anxiety.
Most Delta-8 products are legal in Tennessee because it's a type of THC that's synthesized from legal CBD that's been extracted from hemp, but the processing method used to create Delta-8 is largely unregulated and the product is banned in more than 16 states -- including some where it's legal to use marijuana and other THC products recreationally.
From December 2020 through July 2021, approximately 20 adverse events involving Delta-8 were reported to the FDA by hospitals across the U.S. Some of those events included vomiting, hallucinations, trouble standing and loss of consciousness.
Deputies said the student's vape pen contained Delta-8 liquid and when tested in the field the liquid was also positive for fentanyl. Deputies said buying these type of products on the street instead of in stores can be lethal because you never know what's in it.
"It's really hard to tell if it's got fentanyl in it," Rinehart said.
"People that haven't been using drugs a long time, if they get something with fentanyl in it, chances are high they'll overdose," he said.
While sheriff's deputies have been fighting a war on heroin and meth, times are changing.
"Fentanyl is probably becoming our number one problem," Rinehart said.
They want parents to know they're doing everything to find the source.
Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram said he's working to stop fentanyl from circulating the hallways.
"We know that is is the new meth in our communities in East Tennessee and unfortunately that's presenting a problem in our local school systems," he said.
"As with each county mayor in the past, every month I have to sign autopsy's for overdoses in this county. We see way too many people leave this county at an early age," Ingram said.
The MCSO said new training for school resource officers and other agencies is set to begin Thursday for how to handle drug situations like those they've been seeing the past few months. Deputy Chief Chris White said officers and agents will learn the proper approach to drug overdose. They will also learn how and when to administer the emergency overdose drug Narcan.
The Monroe County School system said it is also scheduling training for teachers and staff on the signs of drug use and how to respond.