Drugs & Health Blog

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.

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, a study 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?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

Yes, schools should definitely have nalaxone on hand, especially with the rapid spread of opiate use in this country.
It saves lives. Rather than an either or approach - why not do preventitive education/action while also having it on hand in emergency situation. Why would the schools NOT have it?
no they shouldn't instead they should teach students not to use that
Honestly my city hardly ever has problems with drug overdoses in general, so I have no experience for my opinion, but I believe that students should know that it is wrong to abuse opioids. I also believe that there are accidents where people take too much of a prescription, so there should be Naloxone as a precaution.
i thank they should
Opioids can be a very dangerous drug if put in the wrong hands or if it is not used properly. It can be highly addictive, especially in teenagers. During the Teenage years, students become highly vulnerable to peer pressure which can lead them to use drugs. Many students start off with the misuse of Opioids, but often times the abuse of this drug can cause death due to an overdose. Though it does not reverse the addiction, Naloxone can save the life of a student and possibly encourage them to rehabilitate to break the addiction of Opioids. Teenagers are exposed to so much in today’s society, making them highly vulnerable to developing a drug addiction. Though students should be taught not use drugs in the first place, other factors outside of school can encourage them to do otherwise. Since children spend a good amount of their teenage years in schools, providing Naloxone to public schools is a good way to be aware and prepare the school staff for an overdose situation. Yes, having Naloxone can lead students to think that they can rely on it if anything happens, but, as mentioned before, they should still be informed on their effects and why they should not be doing it in the first place. Overdose is not a quick and painless death, and once a student begins to experience it I highly doubt they would like to take that risk again, so the possibility of the student rehabilitating themselves to break this addiction can be increased. One of the main concerns of every public school is the safety of students. They should have anything at their disposal that could ensure the life and safety of their students. When a student’s life is in danger, time is a crucial factor of what determines their life and death, so having all the tools necessary, such as Naloxone, should not be hesitated to provide to the school clinics and staff.

We appreciate your thoughtful comments on the issue of opioid use and providing opioid reversal drugs in schools. Many parents do not believe drugs are an issue with their own child, and don’t think this kind of precaution is necessary. However, we do know that good kids can make poor choices when pressured by their friends. It is important to speak up at local school meetings with your opinions.

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