Opioids and Substance Abuse

Arlington Public Schools has many efforts in place to combat the opioid crisis through ongoing education, counseling and prevention. APS is taking immediate steps, with the support of County and community partners, to strengthen our existing programming, supported by our APS administrators, Health and Physical Education staff, Substance Abuse Counselors and mental health teams who continue to do vital, lifesaving work through ongoing education, counseling, and support.


What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid typically used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery. Under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, fentanyl has legitimate medical use. However, illicit fentanyl is illegally made and sold as a powder, pills, liquid or nasal spray. Other drug products like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or unlawfully sold medications thought to be prescription medicine may be laced with illicit fentanyl without the user’s knowledge.

ANY pill received from a friend, or purchased online or on the street may be counterfeit, and could contain fentanyl–and that one use can be fatal.

A dose of fentanyl the size of the tip of a pencil is considered a lethal amount.

images of rainbow fentanyl, counterfeit pills, and tiny amount of fentanyl balanced on the tip of a pencil--a lethal dose

Images Source: DEA

Signs of Overdose

  • Face is pale or clammy
  • Breathing is infrequent or has stopped
  • Deep snoring or gurgling (death rattle)
  • Unresponsive to any stimuli
  • Slow or no heart rate and/or pulse
  • Bluish purple, or ashen skin color
  • Fingernails turn blue or blue-black


APS continues to provide ongoing opioid education, counseling and other programming for students. All APS students learn about the dangers of drug and opioid use in grades 6-10 through the health curriculum.

Additionally, APS substance abuse counselors provide lessons on drug use and opioids to students in grades 4-12.  APS substance abuse counselors also provide parent education through school events and PTAs, individualized and group support, referral services, coordination with providers, staff development, and consultation with parents and staff.

Additional steps include:

  • Education: APS substance abuse counselors are holding opioid/fentanyl/Naloxone training for staff on Wed, Feb. 8, as part of countywide professional learning. Training is required for all secondary staff.  Elementary staff are also encouraged to attend the training on Feb. 8. Training is also provided on an ongoing basis through the Frontline system.
  • Naloxone: We are working with the County and Virginia Department of Health to provide additional Naloxone at schools, and partnering with the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative (AARI), the County’s task force on this issue. View a summary of our joint efforts.
    • This Naloxone training video provides online access to training for all staff and families. Over 200 staff have been trained by either completing this module or attending a live training by the substance abuse counselors.
  • Family Events:  APS is initiating a public awareness campaign, in partnership with Arlington County, including peer-to-peer student video series. APS Community Conversations on Substance Abuse and Opioids are being planned in February and March to provide staff and families with the tools needed to recognize warning signs and start conversations with students. Dates and times will be released in the coming weeks.
  • Vigilance and Monitoring: All middle and high schools will provide additional staff coverage moving forward to increase our monitoring of students during hallway transitions and in bathrooms.
  • Staffing: We are working to increase funding for additional substance abuse counselors as part of the FY 2024 budget process.
  • Awareness: APS School & Community Relations is initiating a public awareness campaign, in partnership with Arlington County, including peer-to-peer student video series.


  • Create safe environments and positive cultures for students.
  • Continue to educate students, each other and families about the dangers of drug use and about how to prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
  • Continue to utilize evidence-based prevention programs that can be delivered in a school setting.
  • Engage mental health staff and substance abuse counselors for guidance in supporting students.
  • Be prepared and vigilant – know the signs of overdose and how to respond using Naloxone. factors and increase student engagement.


We encourage families to communicate the dangers of fentanyl to your children and review the resources provided here.

  • Talk to your children about the dangers of drugs and opioids, having regular and open conversations to discuss the risks.
  • Teach children that ANY pill received from a friend, or purchased online or on the street may be counterfeit and could contain fentanyl–and that one use can be fatal.
  • Reinforce that they should only take pills prescribed by a physician and filled at a pharmacy, and ensure the pills always remain in their possession.
  • If you have concerns about your student, please reach out to your school’s counselor or your healthcare provider.


APS Resources:

Arlington County Resources: