An Erie High School student has been ordered to a juvenile rehabilitation facility in another part of the state after the student admitted to possessing 13.96 grams of fentanyl and $3,100 in cash at the school during the first week of classes in August.
The student was sentenced to the facility at a hearing Tuesday in the juvenile court division of the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz said. The student was found to be delinquent of the offenses at a previous hearing.
Judge John J. Trucilla sentenced the juvenile but did not set a specific length of time for the stay in the juvenile facility. As the law requires, Trucilla will review the case every six months to determine how much longer the juvenile should remain at the facility, Hirz said. Supervision of a juvenile found delinquent in Pennsylvania can continue until age 21.
Hirz said her office agreed with the recommendation of juvenile probation officials that the student should be placed in the out-of-county rehabilitation facility rather than returned home and released to the community.
The student had been detained at the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Millcreek Township following his arrest. The out-of-county residential facility, whose name and location Hirz did not disclose, is designed for longer and more intensive treatment of juvenile offenders. Erie County pays for the treatment.
Tuesday's hearing - known as a dispositional hearing in the terminology of juvenile court - was closed to the public due to the age of the student. The student was not charged as an adult. A juvenile accused of a violent crime, such as a shooting, can be charged as an adult in Pennsylvania.
Officials with the District Attorney's Office and the courts have declined to release more information about the student, including age and gender, due to the prosecution of the case in juvenile court, where defendants are younger than 18.
The student was accused of having 13.96 grams of fentanyl, possibly mixed with cocaine, and $3,100 in cash at Erie High on Aug. 31, the third day of classes for the Erie School District in the 2022-23 academic year. The student was charged with possession with the intent to deliver and reckless endangerment, for having the drugs at a school.
The student admitted to the charges on Sept. 8 at an adjudication hearing in juvenile court, similar to a plea hearing in adult criminal court. The student was adjudicated delinquent at the hearing.
The case moved swiftly in keeping with laws for the juvenile court system, which requires speedy resolutions of cases to get treatment as quickly as possible for juvenile offenders.
State law requires an adjudication hearing to be held 10 days after a juvenile is detained. If a juvenile is detained, a dispositional hearing must occur 20 days after a ruling on the charges, typically at the adjudication hearing.
Fentanyl prevalent in Erie County
The Erie School District has declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said in a statement following the arrest that "we are grateful for the immediate and professional response from our district police officers and for the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies."
The district also said, "an incident like this underscores the importance of the ongoing work we're doing to ensure the safety and security of our staff, students and families, and the need for us to work together as a community to address youth drug use and violence."
The arrest at Erie High, 3325 Cherry St., the Erie School District's largest school, came as security measures, including metal detectors, were increased throughout the schools in the 10,000-student district in response to the shooting at Erie High in April. The student in that case, who injured another student, is being prosecuted as an adult due to the violent nature of that offense.
The drug arrest at Erie High also signaled the depth of the opioid crisis in Erie County.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Often packaged in slow-release patches, fentanyl is also showing up on the street in Erie in pill form, and is being mixed with or passed off as other street drugs including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, according to Erie police.
The percentage of drug deaths involving fentanyl has climbed steadily during the opioid crisis. The Erie County Coroner's Office first listed the drug as a contributing factor in its reports in 2016.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie High fentanyl case: Student sentenced in juvenile court