Fentanyl seized during a raid by Nassau County Police.

Fentanyl seized during a raid by Nassau County Police. Credit: Howard Schnapp

An idiot classmate devised a lucrative scam in ninth grade.

For $3 and a round trip to the city, he’d "cop" a gram of powdered laxative laced with lidocaine from a midtown head shop and resell it as cocaine at school for a buck a line. Students didn’t know better, and Jerkface pocketed $15 per vial, laughing all the way.

Today, that same kid — and there’s always one — could be bringing instant death back to school in the form of fentanyl. Dealers across the country have been cutting low-quality or dummy heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs with cheap fentanyl for several years already, with catastrophic effect. Now, fentanyl is finding its way into "softer" drugs like marijuana gummies and fake Adderall and Xanax pills that can be ordered and hand-delivered with a few strokes of a keypad.

It’s time to press the public panic button. We should have done it a decade ago, but there’s no time for blame games.

Fentanyl can take a life faster than a bullet. Ask any parent who has lost a son or daughter, and nearly everyone knows of one who has. A few specks of fentanyl, smaller than sugar grains, can end a life.

It’s amazing what otherwise intelligent kids will put in their bodies no questions asked, even from people they know they shouldn’t trust. It’s not that they’re stupid — they’re not — it’s that they’re kids, adolescents whose brains haven’t fully developed. Their judgment is immature.

So how do we reach them? Efforts to date clearly have not.

New York is spending money hand over fist right now. Rounding errors in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed $216 billion 2022-23 budget could probably cobble together a few hundred million for the most advanced and effective public education campaign in the country. One should be pursued on a nonpartisan basis.

Such a campaign needs to meet young people where they live — on their phones. And it needs to hire or cajole message emissaries whom our children admire, mostly TikTok and Instagram social media influencers. A 17-year-old from Connecticut has 130 million followers on TikTok, a majority of them young girls. That’s power. We need to tap into it.

Professional athletes could be recruited for the campaign as well. With enough resources we could poll children to find out who most influences them. We could run digital A/B tests to check which messages resonate best. We could run pre-roll ads on Netflix, Spotify, HBO Max and the online Disney Channel. I guarantee those channels would offer a price break.

We’ve done this before, back in the olden days. I remember signs in my elementary school hallways with slogans like "Speed Kills’’ or with depictions of hypodermic needles encircled in red with lines through them. That messaging worked. It didn’t save everyone, but by the end of the 70s hardly anybody was casually sticking needles in their arms. The message had gotten through. Technology should allow us to be a hundred times more effective.

We need to treat fentanyl with the urgency we’d employ in other emergencies. If a child serial killer driving a red van were operating in a community, you can bet every kid for miles would know about that van and its color within a day. That’s the attitude we need to take with fentanyl, because our children are dropping like flies.

Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own.