Two girls died Tuesday at a Tennessee high school in suspected overdoses after taking a drug combination that authorities believe included fentanyl, the latest reminder of how rampantly the lethal drug has made its way to young people in recent years.
A third girl, a 17-year-old student who also overdosed at Fayette-Ware Comprehensive High School in Somerville but has since been released from a hospital, was charged as a juvenile with two counts of second-degree murder and possession of a controlled substance, said District Attorney General Mark Davidson with the 25th Judicial District that includes Fayette County. Somerville is about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.
Davidson told NBC News while fentanyl is suspected to play a role in the deaths of the students, ages 16 and 17, the medical examiner still has to determine the cause and manner of their deaths.
“This case is tragic. It’s terrible,” he said. “And unfortunately, it highlights what we’ve been telling the public … about the dangers of fentanyl. How lethal it is and how prevalent it is becoming. And that if you buy any drug on the street, whether you think it’s meth or cocaine, or a pressed pill, … it very well may contain fentanyl and it very well might kill you.”
The two teens were found dead in a school parking lot, while the teenager who survived was unconscious, Davidson added.
No decision has been made yet on whether that teen will be charged as an adult, he said.
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Versie R. Hamlett said in a Facebook post Wednesday that a “terrible tragedy” occurred the previous day at the high school that involved three students who were completing their junior year at the school.
The names of the students have not been released.
“First and foremost, we want to send our thoughts and prayers to the families of the young ladies who lost their lives,” the post said. “A common thread throughout our district is family. This situation has rocked our family.”
The superintendent added that district officials were working with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and “supporting their efforts in every possible way.”
The sheriff’s office announced on Facebook earlier this week the deaths of the minors in possible drug overdoses. A third juvenile was taken to the hospital in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said.
The suspected fentanyl-related deaths of the teens in Tennessee come on the heels of reports of other teen overdoses reported in communities across the country.
Nearly one dozen students spread across three schools in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas overdosed on fentanyl from September to March. Three of them died.
The overdoses were connected to three individuals who lived a few blocks from the school, according to a federal complaint. All have been charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
Fentanyl, a highly potent and addictive synthetic opiate that can be deadly with a dose as small as the tip of a pencil, has ravaged adult populations for nearly a decade. The mass availability of the drug in recent years has given it a wider path to young people.
Median monthly overdose deaths involving fentanyl for people ages 10 to 19 increased 182% from July to December 2019 compared to the same period in 2021, according to a December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2,200 teens fatally overdosed in the two and a half year period from July 2019 to December 2021, with fentanyl involved in 84% of the deaths, the report found.
Daniella Silva and Safia Samee Ali contributed.