Edmonton police school resource officers will be teaching around 29,000 high school students about the dangers of fentanyl over the next few months, as concern mounts about recreational use of the deadly drug.
About 870 students at Austin O'Brien high school were the first to hear the presentation Thursday. Another 20 high schools will host the presentation in the coming months.
Fentanyl is a highly addictive opioid narcotic that is 100 times more toxic than morphine. A dose the equivalent of two grains of salt can be lethal. It can be made in home labs and is usually sold in pill form. The drug was responsible for the deaths of 272 Albertans in 2015, according to Alberta Health Services.
It's a concern amongst students aged 17 to 25, because the drug is readily available and can be disguised within other recreational drugs, said W.P. Wagner school resource officer Const. John Sorensen.
"It's probably one of the most dangerous (drugs) right now. This one can kill you the first time you try it," Sorensen said.
"We want to get kids informed about what this is. It's so dangerous and so scary how fast it can kill you. It's not kids that are addicts and they're bad kids and on the streets, these are kids that are in high schools, these are kids that are playing hockey and playing sports and are trying it once ... because their friends are trying it."
In 2012, fentanyl was directly linked to six deaths. The number of deaths related to the drug in Alberta has tripled since 2014.
Sorensen said he knows of two high school students in Edmonton who have died as a result of fentanyl use.
"We had a lot of kids grieving about this," he said. "It's their families that are paying the price, other students that are paying the price, their peers that are paying the price."
Sorensen said schools are trying to make the risks associated with the drug clear to students. Parents should also be concerned and aware of the drug — peer pressure means it can affect all students, he said.
It's a message he wants delivered to every high school student in Edmonton.
"Whoever wants the presentation can contact us and we'll be glad to come out there and do a presentation for them," he said.
Austin O'Brien Grade 12 student Bhanwar Gill said she believes her peers will take the drug seriously after watching the presentation on Thursday.
"Most of the kids that were presented as examples, they all overdosed without knowing what they were actually taking," Gill said. "I think that information needs to be out there, that sometimes you don't know what you're taking."