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Middle school art teacher arrested after overdosing on fentanyl in front of students at New Jersey school

Confronting America's fentanyl crisis
Fatal fentanyl overdoses on the rise in the U.S. 09:59

A New Jersey middle school teacher has been arrested after police say he overdosed on fentanyl in front of his students last November. The incident happened just after 9 a.m. EST on Nov. 29, when another staff member at Roosevelt Intermediate School in Westfield reported an unconscious teacher found inside a classroom on the second floor of the building, according to the Westfield Police Department.

In an announcement released on Friday, Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said the teacher, Frank Thompson, was initially "observed in distress" by students before an administrator called the school resource officer, Fortunato Riga, to the classroom. Riga, who later reported the situation to police, recalled finding Thompson "unconscious and unresponsive" on the floor, with the school nurse actively treating him.

Riga told police that he noticed Thompson exhibiting signs of an opioid overdose and administered the medication naxolone hydrochloride, sold under the brand name Narcan, which is used to reverse symptoms. After he was given the medication, Thompson began "showing marked signs of improvement," police said.

Thompson, 57, teaches 6th and 7th grade visual art and 8th grade arts and crafts, according to his teaching page on the Roosevelt Intermediate School website. 

During a police investigation that followed the overdose in the fall, authorities say they discovered "a quantity of a suspected controlled substance" as well as drug paraphernalia in the closet of Thompson's classroom, Battiloro said in Friday's announcement. 

Thompson was charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, allegedly for fentanyl, possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering the welfare of children. The first and last charges listed are considered third-degree crimes while the second is considered a disorderly person offense, the police chief said. Thompson was served a complaint summons and is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 1.

The Westfield school district said it could not comment directly on the classroom incident.

"While the Westfield Public School District cannot comment on personnel matters which are confidential, we will maintain a continued focus on student and staff safety and on preserving the integrity of the classroom learning environment," said Superintendent Dr. Raymond González in a statement. "We are grateful for our strong partnership with the Westfield Police Department."

In a separate statement included with the Westfield Police Department's Friday announcement, Battiloro said the department "continues to prioritize its ongoing partnership with the Westfield Public School System to ensure it has the safety and security resources it needs on a daily basis." 

"In this case, the swift actions of Officer Riga, who is on-site at Roosevelt Intermediate each school day, proved instrumental in maintaining the safety of the students and administering potentially life-saving measures to Mr. Thompson," the statement continued. 

According to Westfield Police, all officers employed by the department, including school resource officers like Riga, are issued Narcan and trained to use it for instances were someone appears to be suffering a drug overdose. The department said officers needed to administer the medication 13 times in 2022. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it seized in 2022 more than 379 million doses of fentanyl, which officials said is enough to kill every American. The agency reported this week that it confiscated over 50 million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder last year.  

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