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Suspected overdose deaths of 2 girls at a Tennessee high school lead to murder charges against student

The girls, ages 16 and 17, were found dead Tuesday in the parking lot of Fayette-Ware Comprehensive High School in Somerville after having taken a drug combination that authorities believe included fentanyl.

Two girls died at a Tennessee high school this week in suspected overdoses after having taken 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 Mark Davidson, the district attorney general for the 25th Judicial District, which includes Fayette County. Somerville is about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.

Davidson told NBC News that while fentanyl is suspected to have played a role in the deaths of the students, ages 16 and 17, on Tuesday, 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 teenagers were found dead in a school parking lot, while the third, who survived, was unconscious, Davidson added.

No decision has been made about whether that teen will be charged as an adult, he said.

Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Versie R. Hamlett said Wednesday on Facebook that a “terrible tragedy” occurred the previous day at the high school that involved three students who were completing their junior years.

The students’ names 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 Facebook post said. “A common thread throughout our district is family. This situation has rocked our family."

Hamlett 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 the deaths of the minors in possible drug overdoses on Facebook this week. A third juvenile was taken to the hospital in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said.

Other teen overdoses have been reported across the country.

Nearly a dozen students 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 people who lived a few blocks from the school, a federal complaint alleged. 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 by 182% from July to December 2019 compared to the same period in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December.

More than 2,200 teens fatally overdosed in the 2½ years from July 2019 to December 2021, with fentanyl involved in 84% of the deaths, the report found.