At Johnnie Cochran Middle School in Los Angeles this spring, an alarming incident unfolded as three students faced a suspected overdose. Prompt action by school personnel, utilizing the life-saving nasal spray Naloxone, revived the students, who were then hospitalized as a precaution but thankfully recovered. This critical intervention underscores the growing impact of the fentanyl crisis on schools, posing unique challenges and tragic consequences for young lives.
Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), expressed his disbelief that students today are exposed to substances where even a small pill fragment can be fatal. LAUSD, as the second-largest district in the country, took a proactive stance, introducing Naloxone across all schools in the 2022-23 academic year following the tragic death of a 15-year-old student due to overdose.
Carvalho noted that Naloxone was administered 31 times in LAUSD during the last school year, potentially saving lives in each instance. Meanwhile, in Prince George's County, Md., officials, led by Richard Moody, the director of alcohol, tobacco, and drug prevention intervention for the district, used Naloxone even more frequently, emphasizing its crucial role. Prince George's County now ensures Naloxone is officially available in all schools, empowering students to carry the spray themselves.
Naloxone, available as a nasal spray, is recognized for its ease of use and fast-acting nature in countering opioid overdoses. Its availability extends beyond schools, with public libraries in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia offering it for free.
A national push for Naloxone in schools gains momentum, with an NPR analysis revealing that 11 out of the 20 largest school districts now stock Naloxone in all schools. This reflects a growing awareness of the urgent need for preventive measures, given the alarming rate at which fentanyl is claiming young lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2021, fentanyl was involved in 84% of all teen overdose deaths, with a nearly threefold increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths among adolescents from 2019 to 2021. Counterfeit pills further complicate the crisis, constituting a significant portion of these fatalities.
However, Julie O'Connell, an epidemiologist and lead author of the CDC's recent report on counterfeit pills, highlights the likelihood of underestimation due to the stringent criteria for incidents to be included in their data.
The CDC advocates Naloxone as a solution for suspected overdoses, providing comprehensive resources for training on its website. Yet, the adoption of Naloxone in schools faces challenges, with Kate King, a school nurse in Columbus, Ohio, and president of the National Association of School Nurses, emphasizing the need for structured procedures and protocols.
While some districts, like Orange County public schools in Florida, acknowledge the importance of Naloxone, the onus often falls on designated individuals, such as school resource officers. In Prince George's County, Moody stresses the significance of widespread training, having visited 80 schools to disseminate crucial knowledge.
For educators like Moody, there's an undeniable urgency to act swiftly, recognizing that every moment counts in addressing the impact of the opioid crisis on schools and young lives.