The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 1:00 am

2 school districts say no to Narcan

FWCS says help already near; NACS to do more research


Schools, which already have defibrillators for heart attacks, fire extinguishers for flames and Ibuprofen in nurses' offices for aches and pains, are adding another remedy to their inventory: medication for opioid overdoses.

But officials with Fort Wayne Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools said their districts aren't among those stocking the opiate overdose-reversing drug naloxone, also called Narcan.

In Ohio last week, the Akron Beacon Journal reported the Akron Board of Education voted 5-1 to equip all the Akron school district's resource officers with the medication. It is effective against overdoses caused by heroin and prescription painkillers that contain opioids such as oxycontin and hydrocodone.

The city of 200,000 in northeast Ohio, an area devastated by the opioid epidemic, joins a growing list of municipalities around the country that have decided to keep Narcan supplies in public schools.

Some school districts in Indiana, including Howard and Bartholomew counties, are now equipped with the drug.

In another sign of how widespread opioid abuse has become, some 40,000 doses of the antidote will soon be available to U.S. colleges under a plan by the Clinton Foundation and Adapt Pharma.

Members of the Akron Board of Education said their measure was not passed in response to any fatal overdose in the school system but as a precaution.

“I just hope that, if it's necessary, it'll be available to save somebody,” board member John Otterman told the Beacon Journal.

The dissenting vote came from board member Debbie Walsh, who said she believed equipping schools with Narcan would end up encouraging heroin abuse.

“I think there's often too much of an attitude of, 'As long as there's Narcan, we're safe,'” Walsh told the Beacon Journal last week. “That's just a message that I don't want out there.”

Law enforcement agencies have embraced Narcan as a lifesaving tool in areas ravaged by opioid addiction, and medical professionals generally dispute the notion that its increased availability enables drug abuse or makes addicts more likely to harm themselves.

A 2010 report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found no evidence to support such claims and cited some studies that showed having Narcan on hand may actually help reduce drug use.

Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News last week he supported the Akron school board's decision. He said it was no different from having a defibrillator on the gym wall.

“We would not expect teens to abuse opioids because naloxone is available in their schools,” Davis said. “Making naloxone available in junior high and high schools is smart public health policy, given what is known about teens' misuse of prescription opioid medicines and teens' use of heroin in the U.S. today.”

A 2015 survey by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, part of Indiana University-Bloomington, found 1.4 percent of high school seniors in Allen County had tried heroin at least once, and of those, 0.7 percent used it at least monthly.

State Department of Health training materials on the use of naloxone say 21 percent of Indiana high school students and 11.2 percent of college students have reported using controlled substances for non-medical reasons.

Krista Stockman, FWCS spokeswoman, said school officials believe that, as an urban district, schools are close enough to first responders with access to Narcan and the training to save a life.

To her knowledge, she said, there has not been an overdose at any of the district's schools.

NACS will research the consequences and benefits of stocking the drug in response to statutory changes that took effect July 1, Superintendent Chris Himsel said in an email.

Senate Bill 392 allows schools to carry Narcan, among other emergency medication, and requires the Indiana Department of Education to develop guidance materials concerning each medication and post those materials online.

NACS plans to explore the issue with other members of the Allen County Safety Commission and have follow-up discussions with health providers, law enforcement and first responders to get information specific to the school district, Himsel said.

The district's safety committee and nurses then will evaluate the information and make a recommendation to him, he said. He noted the school board would have to approve any change to NACS' policies or procedures.

“In the meantime,” he said in the email, “we will continue with our current practice of NOT keeping it in stock within our schools.”

Himsel said a more important and relevant topic is the ability to keep EpiPens in stock for those with allergic reactions to bee stings and food.

“During my education career, I do not recall a need to use Narcan in the schools where I have been employed,” he said in the email, “but I definitely can recall the need for using an EpiPen in response to a child having an allergic reaction.”

Information from East Allen County and Southwest Allen County schools was not immediately available.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.

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