Our Opinion: Schools unwise to postpone purchase of heroin antidote

November 4th, 2015 7:34 am

For the safety of students and others, school administrators in Northeastern Pennsylvania should agree to stock a potentially life-saving antidote to heroin.

Too many school districts in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties have been slow to make room on their medicine shelves for naloxone, or Narcan. Ditto for certain area colleges.

Their foot-dragging hardly seems an educated response to a national heroin epidemic responsible for a rapidly rising number of drug-overdose fatalities.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who in April widely expanded the public’s access to naloxone, more recently emphasized that schools can legally store and administer the medication capable of counteracting overdoses. A letter was dispatched in September to the superintendents of all 500 school districts in Pennsylvania. In the letter, the governor and the secretaries of three departments – education, health and drug and alcohol programs – recommended that school districts be proactive.

However, leaders of several institutions in our region told the Times Leader this month they have not put naloxone in their facilities; some said they are “considering” it. Among the reasons given for not taking quicker action: They haven’t had problems with overdoses in the past. Or a school resource officer might carry Narcan in the future, assuming he or she is a member of a police department that provides the necessary training.

To us, it sounds as if these authority figures are still hiding from the realities of heroin and opioid abuse.

• A study released this week indicates the death rate for middle-aged white Americans, unlike most populations, has been increasing. Among the reasons that researchers cited for this spike: Overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Demerol.

• Teenagers also are dying from opioid overdoses, a point driven home Sunday in a “60 Minutes” segment titled “Heroin in the Heartland.” Correspondent Bill Whitaker and crew focused on student fatalities in Columbus, Ohio. “The dealers are going where the money is and they’re cultivating a new set of consumers: high school students, college athletes, teachers and professionals,” he said.

A young woman interviewed by Whitaker said she dabbled with drugs at 15, moving from marijuana, to pain pills, to heroin.

And where would she sometimes shoot up?

The school bathroom.

• In Luzerne County, 17 lives were spared in recent months by police and other first responders newly armed with naloxone, the district attorney said in late August.

For local school district officials, the writing is clearly on the wall. Heroin use is happening in our communities, quite possibly in our schools, and making naloxone more broadly accessible will save lives.

To believe otherwise is naive, bordering on negligent.