CHICAGO - Fentanyl frequently makes headlines when it comes to the news, but it’s not always talked about - if at all - in the classroom.
For Lelia Peradotti, the topic of fentanyl became a personal one about 2 ½ years ago.
"My mom. Her boyfriend passed away from fentanyl. And she had found him in his apartment. Unfortunately he had already passed," Peradotti says.
The untimely death sent shock waves through her family and got her thinking.
"I kind of questioned myself, and I was wondering what even is fentanyl because at that point I hadn’t been taught a ton about it in school. During that year and during that time, I had my health class, but I was only taught a very, very small amount about fentanyl," she said.
That’s why Peradotti made increasing education about fentanyl the goal of a social studies project she had at Naperville Central High School last year.
"So my action was creating two bills that have helped get my point across right," Peradotti said. "So the first one is obviously about fentanyl education in schools.
"This House bill it basically requires high school health classes to teach about the danger of fentanyl. To teach about recognizing the symptoms of an overdose. And more importantly, how to treat that overdose if you see one happening," she said.
After being contacted by Peradotti's teacher, State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr worked closely with her to turn those bills in to laws.
The second bill requires school nurses to have Narcan in their offices.
Laura Fry, executive director of the harm reduction organization Live4Lali, says a drug education gap can have deadly results.
"I’m talking to kids who have no idea what fentanyl is. Kids who have no idea what naloxone is and that they should carry it. And then all the way on the other end of spectrum, I know about fentanyl. I like that," Fry said.
Fry says we need to close that gap make sure kids don’t just learn about drugs on the street.
"That’s not where we want kids to get their education. Children are curious and the moment we say to them one pill will kill you, and they happen to try it, and they don’t die, then we’re all liars. So things are impulsive. Nothing is going to happen to me," she said.
But statistics show just the opposite.
"What we are finding because we test people’s drugs, is fentanyl across the board. We have tested and found it in all pressed pills. We have tested and found it in LSD," Fry says.
In 2022, the Cook County medical examiner's office saw a record number of opioid-related deaths, the vast majority traced back to fentanyl.
DuPage County reported 150 overdose deaths that same year with more than two-thirds of those also tied to fentanyl.
It’s a trend that lawmakers like Yang Rohr have been following closely
"What we’ve seen over the past decade especially, is just like a huge rise in opioid overdoses. And fentanyl has really become a part of that. And so what we want to make sure is that students, that our public is aware of these issues, right? If you don’t talk about it, then maybe you don’t know about it until it’s too late," Yang Rohr said.
Much like Peradotti and her family.
"So when you put it into that curriculum, then it makes sure that when you’re going through high school. That you’ll definitely get this piece of education," Yang Rohr said.
Both of the bills Yang Rohr and Peradotti worked on together were signed in to law by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker late last month.
They both take effect at the start of the 2024-25 school year.