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 occurred shortly 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 Friday, Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said the teacher, Frank Thompson, was first “observed in distress” by students before an administrator called the school’s resource officer, Fortunato Riga, to the classroom. Riga, who later reported the situation to police, recalled finding Thompson “unconscious and unresponsive” on the floor, while the school nurse was actively treating him.
Riga told police he noticed Thompson showing signs of an opioid overdose and administered the drug 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 arts 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 last 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 fentanyl, possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering the welfare of children. The first and last charges listed are considered third-degree felonies, while the second is considered a misdemeanor disorderly conduct, the police chief said. Thompson was served a summons and is scheduled to appear in court on February 1.
The Westfield school district said it could not comment directly on the incident in the classroom.
“While the Westfield Public School District cannot comment on personnel matters that are confidential, we will maintain a continued focus on student and staff safety and on preserving the integrity of the classroom learning environment,” Superintendent Dr. Raymond González said in a statement. “We are grateful for our strong partnership with the Westfield Police Department.”
In a separate statement included in 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 quick actions of Officer Riga, who is on the scene at Roosevelt Intermediate every 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 cases where someone appears to be suffering from a drug overdose. The department said officers needed to administer the medication 13 times by 2022.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2022 it seized more than 379 million doses of fentanyl, which officials said is enough to kill every American. The agency reported this week that it confiscated more than 50 million counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder last year.