Should Schools Be Ready for Opioid Overdoses?

The NIDA Blog Team

We’ve mentioned before that teens’ misuse of opioids—either prescription pain relievers or heroin—is declining. That’s terrific! But those who do misuse opioids put themselves at risk for an overdose, and unfortunately, overdoses for teens 15 and older are on the rise. In 2014, 76 young people died from prescription opioid overdoses.

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Because the drug naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose, some people want to make it available where a lot of young people can be found: public schools. In most schools in the U.S., if a teen has an overdose, nurses can call 911 and perform rescue breathing until EMS arrives—but when it comes to reversing an opioid overdose, seconds count.

So lawmakers in some states have started to authorize schools to have naloxone handy if they need it. The National Association of School Nurses has endorsed the idea.

Myths vs. Facts

Increasing the availability of naloxone means overcoming misunderstandings about the drug and other measures that can reduce the harm caused by opioid misuse.

For example, some people claim that naloxone might give those who are addicted to opioids a false sense of security, so having it at school might actually make some students more willing to use opioids there. However, studies where naloxone has been made more available found no increase in opioid misuse. For instance, astudy that distributed naloxone to actual opioid users and their friends and families in Massachusetts ended up reversing 237 overdoses, without increasing opioid misuse.

Some critics also claim that even if naloxone can reverse an overdose, it doesn’t help the person deal with their underlying addiction. That’s like saying that you shouldn’t revive a person who had a heart attack because a defibrillator doesn’t address their underlying heart disease.

Naloxone is a life-saving measure, not a treatment; saving a life with naloxone enables the person to go on living and hopefully enter treatment to address their addiction. For a person to deal with their addiction, they have to be alive, right?

Easier to Use

Others have said that nurses might not administer the drug correctly because they aren’t trained paramedics or emergency doctors. But naloxone now comes in easy-to-use nasal sprays and auto-injectors that non-medically trained people can use. So there’s no reason to think trained school personnel couldn’t administer it safely.

The American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association both have supported making naloxone available even to family members who can, if necessary, reverse an overdose for a family member who’s taking opioids.

As clear as the case seems to be for making naloxone available in schools, the debate seems likely to go on for a while. What do you think? Should all schools be allowed to have naloxone on hand in case a student overdoses on opioids? What’s your school doing to address the issue?

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