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Education Leader Urges Opioid Overdose Training In San Diego County Schools

A Narcan nasal device which delivers naloxone lies on a counter as a health e...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A Narcan nasal device which delivers naloxone lies on a counter as a health educator gives instructions on how to administer it in the Brooklyn borough of New York, July 3, 2018.

GUESTS: Susan Murphy, health reporter, KPBS News

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San Diego County teachers are already trained on school shooting drills and identifying sex trafficking victims. Now, they may be tasked with learning to revive students who overdose on opioids.

“I’ve had people tell me things, you know, now you want our teachers to be first responders to drug overdoses? And I say ‘yes,’” said Mark Powell, vice president for the San Diego County Board of Education.

“If the teacher or the administrator can do something as simple as spray this in a kid’s nose if they’re overdosing, why not?” said Powell.

Street drugs laced with the deadly opioid fentanyl is a soaring epidemic in San Diego County. Nearly 300 people died, including some children, of opioid overdoses in 2017, the most recent statistics available.

The deadly crisis has prompted Powell to push for training for all middle and high school teachers and administrators on using the opioid reversal drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan.

“In order to save lives, I thought that it would be a good idea to arm teachers and administrators with the tools that they need to help students in case of an overdose,” Powell said.

The nasal spray is an FDA-approved medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It can very quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped.

“Put that in the nose, press this little button on the bottom, and disperse this mist, and it should revive them,” said Powell, holding up the small devise. “That would give them enough time then to call 9-1-1 get paramedics there, and it can save a life.”

At least two students recently suffered suspected opioid overdoses on school campuses, said Powell, a former teacher and San Diego reserve police officer who worked on school anti-drug programs.

A spokesperson for the San Diego Unified School District said when paramedics are called to a campus, the incidents are not tracked by type because of HIPPA laws. The district was unable to specify whether the 9-1-1 calls were due to an asthma attack, physical injury or opioid overdose.

The spokesperson added, starting six months ago, all 38 police officers assigned to city schools carry Naloxone, but none have had to administer the drug.

Still, Powell believes the growing crisis constitutes a ready response.

“We’re currently partnering with the DEA and setting policy to look as to what it would take to train all of the teachers and staff, administrators on the signs and symptoms of an overdose,” Powell explained.

He also wants to revamp the overall drug education curriculum. He said telling kids to “just say no” is no longer enough. According to the DEA, drug cartels are increasing mixing fentanyl with all street drugs, including marijuana and heroin, because it’s cheaper and easier to manufacture. But the opioid is so powerful even trace amounts can be deadly.

“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 and nothing’s going to happen,” Powell said. “This is, if you do these drugs on the streets, you can die.”

Powell said the Board is set to discuss the issue in February.

“It’s saving lives is what it is, saving lives,” Powell said. "If we can develop a program that is scalable, we can be a model for the entire state."


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