Citing a dramatic increase in opioid-related intoxication deaths in Prince Georges County, public schools will begin to store antidotes for overdoses in their healthcare units for the upcoming school year. And while legislators said they believe the move could save lives, some parents remain unconvinced.
The Heroin and Opioid Education and Community Action Act of 2017 requires each county board to establish a policy related to the administration of naloxone, as well as programs established by the State Board of Education to include instruction on heroin and opioid addiction and prevention, including information on the lethal effect of fentanyl. The school for Prince George’s County school is slated to begin on Sept. 6.
“It’s a lot like sex education coming into schools and someone has to determine what is taught and at which grade levels, but if you said you’d supply condoms or morning after pills, there would be another level of conversation,” Nakeisha Sessoms, a Cheverly, Md. resident who is the mother of a public school student in the county, told the AFRO. “Also, years ago when people were spacing out on Love Boat (PCP) or having reactions to other drugs, the school nurse had no part in it. I’m not sure if that is a good thing to add her to it.”
The Maryland Department of Health, however, charting a crisis-level rise in overdoses and use-related deaths, documented 372 fentanyl-related deaths in Maryland to fatal overdoses for the first quarter of 2017. Overdose-related deaths in Prince George’s County during this period doubled from 2017 to 2016.
There were 27 fentanyl-related intoxication deaths in Prince George’s County in the first quarter of 2017, compared with just four in the first quarter of 2016; rates for other opioids, including heroin and opium, registered for 30 deaths for the period between January-March of 2017 – three more than in 2007. And while the year 2016 closed with 106 deaths, health officials fear that without strict interventions – even in schools – more overdoses and deaths could be seen. There have been no reports of opioid deaths in Prince George’s County schools.
Under legislation of HB1082, school nurses become first-responders in cases of drug overdose, and would be trained to manage the use of naloxone and Narcon. They would also be responsible for reporting drug use to the state.
“I understand the crisis level of drug use and addiction, but you are asking the same nurses, who just a few years ago could not administer aspirin to our kids, to now act as first-responders to drug overdoses at the school,” Sessoms told the AFRO. “It seems like a better solution would be to provide a school psychologists who can determine why the kids are using drugs in the first place.”
Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, told WAMU that naloxone, while effective, constitutes an expensive, last-resort treatment. “Well, it’s a tragedy that we need naloxone as much as we do, but you’re right that it can be life-saving. But once someone is receiving naloxone, the horse is out of the barn,” he said. “While I support increased efforts to distribute naloxone, I also think it’s vital that we focus further upstream. That is, prior to opioid dependence developing, and identifying and treating those with opioid use disorders that may not yet have overdosed.”
The bill provisions school health centers with roughly $30,000 to supply one naloxone kit at each school and athletic event.