The Debate Over NARCAN in the Schools



It is a familiar story that is plaguing American’s communities, with a familiar headline that appears to repeat itself over and over again in the headlines: Young person dies of apparent drug overdose. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that opioids, the class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl, are the root cause for a spike in drug overdose deaths in recent years. Of the more than 47,000 lethal drug overdoses in 2014, more than 29,000 were caused by opioids.

The drug Naloxone HCI, more commonly known as NARCAN, is marketed by its manufacturer Adapt Pharma as “the first and only FDA-approved nasal naloxone for emergency treatment of an overdose caused by an opioid.” The drug works to stop the effects of opioid medicines on the body while having no effect on people who are not taking opioids. Since it comes in the form of a nasal spray, it makes it very easy for someone with minimal medical training to administer it to another person.

Earlier this year in an effort to combat the growing opioid crisis in our nation, drugmaker Adapt Pharma announced that it would make its nasal spray NARCAN available to all high schools in the United States free of charge. This announcement came six months after the National Association of Nurses released a position paper urging schools to make NARCAN available for use by school nurses. Adapt Pharmas’s announcement has led to a national debate on whether or not schools should stock NARCAN as a first response to help students deal with the effects of opioid overdose.

There are several layers to this debate. Laws on the use of prescription drugs such as NARCAN vary from state to state. In its announcement, Adapt Pharma acknowledged this by stating that the drug would be made available to state departments of education to be administered to schools. As Kimberly Leonard reports in this January 2016 US News and World Report article, some states such as Rhode Island, Kentucky, and New York have proactive approaches. Rhode Island requires NARCAN to be stocked in all public middle, junior high and high schools. In Kentucky and New York, school employees are allowed to administer naloxone and be excused from liability. Other states, like Maine, continue to block efforts to allow drugs like NARCAN in the schools because it would, as Maine’s governor Paul LePage suggests, give drug users a false sense of security.

In the medical community, the Department of Health and Human Services has made the opioid overdose issue a national priority by increasing efforts to convince doctors to be more reserved when prescribing painkillers in the opioid family.  On its website, it maintains a list of resources for patients and families, medical professionals and first responders, schools, police, and policy-makers on the opioid epidemic.  

At its most basic level, though, the debate over whether or not to stock NARCAN in the school starts with the school community itself. Parents can find out if their school stocks NARCAN simply buy inquiring with the school’s nurse or health office. Schools looking to stock this drug should start by reviewing their school and local procedures and policies for the handling and administration of such drugs. State Departments of Education can offer guidance to schools to make sure their policies are sufficient. NARCAN won’t stop this horrible epidemic, but it could save a life long enough to get someone help. To beat this this, it is going to take all of us working together.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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