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Education Leader Urges Opioid Overdose Training In San Diego County Schools

February 4, 2019 1:18 p.m.

GUESTS: Susan Murphy, health reporter, KPBS News

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Related Story: Education Leader Urges Opioid Overdose Training In San Diego County Schools


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The amount of deadly fentanyl laced opioids in the mix of available street drugs in San Diego has increased and that has county school administrators concerned. So concern that there is a proposal that school teachers and staff be trained to administer an anti overdose drug. K PBS health reporter Susan Murphy joins me now. And Susan welcome to the program. Thanks Maureen. How big is the opioid overdose problem in San Diego and how does the addition of fentanyl increase the problem.

Well as you mentioned street drugs in San Diego County and across the nation are increasingly being laced with this deadly opioid fentanyl. It's a white powder substance. It also comes in pill form and it's lethal in very small doses it basically stops your breathing. So the problem is drug cartels are tainting these street drugs with fentanyl causes more cost effective. The reported deaths from fentanyl in California the latest numbers we have they nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017 and San Diego County 300 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in 2017 with half involving fentanyl.

We're trying to get the most recent numbers of 2018 those were not released quite yet but I did talk to the DEA in San Diego. They have a task force that they just started to address this growing problem. They tell me those numbers continue to soar. I also talked to an emergency room doctor who says they've seen a 30 percent increase in the number of people who come in with opioid overdoses. Though it is definitely a growing problem.

Do we know if there have been any overdose victims at San Diego schools.

Well a San Diego School Board of Education the vice president Mark Powell says to students recently suffered suspected opioid overdoses on school campuses in the county. I reached out to several school districts just to find out how big of a problem this is. San Diego Unified School District spokesperson tells me that when paramedics are called to campus they don't track these incidents by type so they don't have specific information. If it was an asthma attack or a physical injury or an opioid overdose because the hip laws prevent them from following up to find out the exact cause so they don't have they're not able to paint you know an accurate picture of this problem on campuses.

What is the anti overdose drug. The teachers may have to learn to administer.

Well it's called naloxone also known as Narcan. It's a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses so it quickly restores normal breathing to a person when the breathing has stopped. It's FDA approved. It comes in an injection or a nasal spray. So the proposal is for teachers and staff to carry the nasal spray. It does not require prescription anyone but basically can go to the pharmacy and pick up a Narcan drug.

San Diego County Board of Education vice president Mark Powell sort of explains how this works.

Put that in the nose push this precious little button on the bottom and disperse this mist and it should revive them. That would give them enough time then to call nine one one. Get paramedics there and it can save a life.

Would all teachers need to learn this Susan.

That is the proposal because when you have an overdose like that it requires immediate action. So although there may be a school nurse who has it on hand the Senegal unified spokesperson tells me that all 38 police officers assigned to schools are trained and do carry Narcan. But you know if those people are not available right there in the immediate need for this to be administered then you know teachers should have it on hand and then they're able to save lives. So they think that the more people who have it you know the better off they'll be.

They believe this will be an increasingly growing problem and that it needs to be addressed now.

Now doesn't this add to the number of school safety measures that are becoming the responsibility of teachers.

That's right. So there's a growing list of responsibilities put upon teachers. That's been the criticism that this vice president of the County Board of Education has received that teachers are already trained and having to deal with school shooting drills they have to look out for violence in the home life of students. You know they have to worry about our students getting enough to eat and are they they're also being trained to look out for sex trafficking victims. There's just a growing laundry list now they may be trained to be first responders.

He says that yes this is totally mind boggling. Their first job is to educate. But he believes it's that important.

Along with this proposed training Mark Powell would like to revamp drug education at schools.

How he says telling kids to just say no is no longer enough. He says we've kind of reached a new day and age with this new threat. And he says with the legalization of marijuana they're getting mixed messages. He says kids and their parents need to be educated basically on the seriousness of the danger out there. And here he is talking about that. So we have to look at a program that can help students understand that.

Taking these drugs now is not something that's just recreational nothing's going to happen. It's not it's not reefer madness. This is if you do these drugs on the street you can die.

When is the County Board of Education planning to take up this proposal.

They're planning to discuss this this month in February. And Mark Powell hopes that the training and of Narcan kit can get underway this year and that would be teachers mainly in middle and high schools is that right. And administrators staff everybody at the school.

Correct. I've been speaking with Kay PBS health reporter Susan Murphy. Susan thank you. Thank you.