It’s an unfortunate sign of the times and a reflection of a growing crisis. School nurses’ medicine cabinets contain all sorts of remedies for minor bruises, headaches, and allergic reactions—and now in some schools, those nurses also have naloxone.
Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, can and does save lives. But are opioids like heroin really being used by high school and middle school students? Not often. In fact, according to a 2015 report by the National Institutes of Health, opioid use among teenagers is at an all-time low.
But when heroin or prescription opioid overdoses occur, the victim stops breathing, and seconds count. School nurses are often the first responders in emergencies that occur in schools, and giving them the tools they need in order to cope with those emergencies has become a high priority in some states.
“We have it in the same way we have defibrillators and EpiPens, the way we have oxygen in our schools,” Adrienne Weiss-Harrison, the New Rochelle School District’s public health coordinator, told The New York Times. “Rarely do we pull a defibrillator off the wall, but it’s there if we need it, and that’s how we approach [having] naloxone.”
Adapt Pharma, a company that makes naloxone, partnered with the Clinton Foundation in 2016 to offer all public schools a free two-dose box of Narcan (the brand name of naloxone) nasal spray. That two-dose packet, which has a two-year expiration date, would otherwise cost $75.
Matt Ruth, Adapt Pharma’s U.S. Chief Commercial Officer, acknowledges that overdoses aren’t frequent on high school campuses, but nonetheless, the company offered the kits to educate school officials and students about opioid use. Educators in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Ohio accepted the drug in 2016. As of March 29, 2017, schools in Connecticut and New Mexico also stock the drug.
New York State has a program that provides naloxone free to schools, and 64 school districts are participating so far. Interestingly, New York City schools aren’t stocking naloxone because officials said they “have not seen the need.”
In Rhode Island, every middle school, junior high, and high school is required to have naloxone in its medicine cabinets, and the New Jersey legislature recently introduced a bill for a similar program in that state.
But is there really a need?
Kathleen Neelon, the nursing coordinator for schools in Wallingford, Connecticut, says there have been many overdoses among young adults in the area, so the district decided to stock naloxone in its high schools.
“We instituted it in December, and I hope we never have to use it,” Neelon told The New York Times.
Generally, the response among communities where schools are stocking the drug has been accepting, with the understanding that it’s a sad statement about the opioid epidemic ravaging some parts of the country.
However, some people have raised an interesting question: If schools were stocking the antidote to, say, crack cocaine overdoses, would the response be different? There has been a lot of conversation about how race has affected the response to opioid addiction. The face of opioid abuse is primarily white and suburban, while other drugs such as crystal meth and crack cocaine tend to be used more commonly among different class and racial demographics.
“If there was an antidote to crack, the argument would be we should just kick these people out of school, rather than trying to deal with them in the school system,” said Daniel Raymond, director of policy and planning at the Harm Reduction Coalition. “It would be about getting tough, cracking down, kicking them off of sports teams, and expelling them.”
What do you think? Does your school stock naloxone? Has your staff ever had to use it? Do you think it’s a good idea to stock naloxone in schools? Is there a racial divide over how different types of drug abuse are treated? Share your thoughts in the comments.