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School districts rush to stock Narcan, the best defense against fentanyl

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fentanyl is killing kids at an alarming rate. The Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, says that in 2021, fentanyl was involved in 84% of all overdose deaths among teenagers. There is an antidote. It's a nasal spray called Naloxone. It's also known as narcan. And school districts around the country are now rushing to stock it. NPR's Sequoia Carrillo reports.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: This spring at Johnnie L. Cochran middle school in Los Angeles, three students suffered from a suspected overdose in one day. School personnel quickly sprayed Naloxone up the noses of the middle schoolers, and they revived.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: Never would I have imagined that students would today have contact with a substance where even just a small bit of a pill could kill you.

CARRILLO: That's Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the country's second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified. He's a big proponent of addressing the fentanyl crisis head-on and was an early adopter of Naloxone in schools. Last school year, LAUSD administered the spray 31 times.

CARVALHO: That's 31 times that we possibly saved a life, right? Where maybe the administration of narcan a minute later, it could have resulted in a fatality that is preventable - that is absolutely preventable through the power of education.

CARRILLO: Last school year was the first year they stocked it in all schools. The move came in response to a 15-year-old student dying from an overdose in a school bathroom. And it's not just LAUSD that's needing Naloxone regularly. Across the country, in Prince George's County, Md., Richard Moody, supervisor for the Office of Student Engagement and School Support, says if he had to guess how many times they used it last year...

RICHARD MOODY: I'm going to say 45.

CARRILLO: Forty-five.

MOODY: Yeah.

CARRILLO: That's more than once a week.

MOODY: What I keep repeating over in my mind is that if this all got down to there was one overdose a year, that's one overdose too many.

CARRILLO: A national movement to get Naloxone in schools is gaining momentum. An NPR analysis found that last school year, only five of the 20 largest school districts in the country stocked Naloxone in all of their schools. This year, 11 of 20 do. Three more told NPR that getting the medicine in every school is a priority by the end of this school year. One of those districts is Chicago. While on the district side, they're still working on it, some students have taken up the torch of spreading awareness.

PATRICIA CRUZ: My name is Patricia Cruz (ph), and I'm a junior at Lane Tech.

CARRILLO: Patricia was part of a class where students made infographics and videos about how their peers could help with the fentanyl crisis.

CRUZ: So come up with me. I'll show you what to do. OK. We're here at the Independence Park Public Library in Chicago. If you live in...

CARRILLO: In some large cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, anyone can walk into a public library and request Naloxone.

CRUZ: Where you have narcan available totally for free, no questions asked. You can take one and then you can leave.

CARRILLO: But even though students can get Naloxone for free, many districts won't let them carry it in school. Training to dispense the drug is another challenge schools face.

KATE KING: It's not as simple as just saying, hey, we're going to have Naloxone in our school tomorrow.

CARRILLO: Experts say naloxone is easy to administer and use and very low risk. But Kate King, a nurse in Columbus, Ohio, and the president of the National Association of School Nurses, says many school administrators are still wrestling with rules and procedures they believe are necessary before stocking the medication.

KING: Who's going to give it? How are they going to give it? Where is it going to be kept?

CARRILLO: Answering these questions quickly, many educators say, could mean the difference between life and death.

Sequoia Carrillo, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sequoia Carrillo is an assistant editor for NPR's Education Team. Along with writing, producing, and reporting for the team, she manages the Student Podcast Challenge.
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