WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The Wichita Falls community has been rocked by 18 suspected fentanyl overdose deaths in 2022 alone. As that number grows, so does concern among community residents.

But, after a fatal fentanyl overdose claimed the life of a 13-year-old boy on Sunday, September 18, parents of school-aged children in Wichita Falls became worried about the spread of the dangerous drug in local schools.

Dr. Donny Lee, Superintendent of the Wichita Falls Independent School District, said that concern is certainly warranted in light of recent events.

“We just had a death in our community this past weekend,” Dr. Lee said. “So I think parents should be highly concerned about it because it’s very potent, it’s very toxic, and kids don’t know that they’re even taking it, and they could die.”

That concern from parents is the very reason Dr. Lee, several WFISD school board members including board president Mike Rucker, and other district staff attended Crime Stopper’s board meeting on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, at the Kemp Center for the Arts.

Curtis Heptner, President of Crime Stoppers, invited district officials and the school board to attend in hopes of teaming up to tackle the growing fentanyl crisis facing teens in Wichita Falls.

Heptner said their showing at Tuesday’s meeting was the first step in the right direction.

“I thought our meeting today was extremely fruitful,” Heptner said. “That is the reason we asked them to come, is because we know that law enforcement couldn’t do it by themselves, we knew Wichita Falls ISD couldn’t solve this issue by themselves.”

As Crime Stoppers officials said throughout the meeting, more hands in the pot is the key to shrinking and eventually eliminating the stamp fentanyl is making on the community.

“We want to get that partnership rolling so hopefully we can put a dent in this stuff that’s coming into our city,” Heptner said.

Already, Crime Stoppers Coordinator Brian Arias said they’ve worked with WFISD’s Chief of Police Lahoma Vaughan to train campus resource officers to better handle the growing fentanyl crisis.

Officer Arias said they’ve already given their presentation to students at McNiel Middle School on Monday and Tuesday, and will be doing the same at Kirby Middle School on Thursday and Friday.

At the meeting, Officer Arias demonstrated how Crime Stoppers hopes to reach students through its Safe School program, and what students would learn for free.

“I’m able to speak from first-hand experience to the students and to the adults, which allows them to know how to report to Crime Stoppers about illegal drugs or illegal criminal activity in the hopes of getting good information from them,” Officer Arias said.

But it doesn’t stop there. Dr. Lee said the key to beating fentanyl at WFISD is education and awareness. That’s why this partnership is being formed.

“Our key mission here is to raise awareness on what fentanyl is, what fentanyl does, how dangerous it is, and we want to let the parents know that we’re doing something about it,” Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Lee said he hopes to connect with students through multiple angles, including public speakers, pastors, and Crime Stoppers presentations. He also wants parents to be informed so they can be another line of defense against the dangers of fentanyl.

According to Dr. Lee, that will come in the form of a list of resources on the WFISD website.

“We’re going to have a special tab designed for parents for resources, and so that parents can go on that website and say, Okay. Here’s what fentanyl is, here’s what it does, here’s how we have conversations with our kids,” Dr. Lee said.

Heptner advised parents to be in tune with what their student is doing, and what’s going on in their life, and to be involved if they see anything unusual.

“Anything out of the ordinary,” Heptner said. “I think nowadays, you can’t be too careful. So I think they just need to watch what their kids are doing and consuming.”

Of course, the most important thing is to remind students that if they see something, they need to say something.

“The reason we’re getting this information out to students is that they’re our next line of defense,” Officer Arias said. “They’re also human beings. They have a voice and it needs to be heard.”

Using that voice and submitting a tip anonymously to Crime Stoppers. Sure, you could earn a cash reward. But more than that, you could end up stopping another fentanyl overdose death in our community.

If you or your student have any information on fentanyl in our local schools, you’re urged to call Crime Stoppers twenty-four hours a day at 940-322-9888, or if you are calling long distance, call 1-800-322-9888.

From the time your tip is placed into Crime Stoppers to a possible reward being issued with board approval, you will remain completely anonymous throughout the whole process.