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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 1st, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 49

New state legislation could require Narcan at schools

By Taylor O'Connor

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District got ahead of a new state legislation by taking the steps to have naloxone hydrochloride, a medication that reverses an overdose’s effects, at all of its middle school sites, Health Program Specialist Carolyn Kleinsmith said. 

“I think it’s really important we have Narcan available in schools. Unfortunately, post pandemic, we have seen a rise in student use of narcotics,” Kleinsmith said. “It’s not something happening every single day, but it’s different. It’s not benign like marijuana … this instance could end [a] child’s life.” 

Naloxone hydrochloride—a medication that reverses any opioid’s effects on the body—could be required at all public school sites by a new state legislation.

Commonly known as Narcan, the medication reverses opioids’ effects on the body by binding to the brain’s opiate receptors and kicking out any harmful drugs in the system, according to previous Sun reporting. Its presence has become more important as Santa Barbara County—and the rest of the nation—faces an increasing number of opioid-related deaths. 

Melissa Wilkins, division chief of the county Alcohol and Drug Program, said that fatal drug overdoses affected a younger demographic from 2020 to 2021 with 18 deaths among 15- to 24-year olds, doubling the amount of deaths from 2020. Wilkins cited this jump in deaths during a Jan. 19 County Office of Education panel, attributing it to increased exposure to fentanyl—a synthetic opiate 50 times more potent than heroin. 

“In 2020, the average age of overdose deaths was between 30 and 40 years old. In 2021, it’s shifting to a younger demographic,” Wilkins said. “What’s even more tragic about this data, and I’m sorry this is the heavy part of this presentation, is that many of these individuals were not individuals who had history using substances.” 

Oftentimes, they were individuals who used one time or used recreationally, but ended up ingesting fentanyl and it led to an overdose death, she said. Overall, drug overdoses and poisonings are now the third leading cause of death in children in the United States, according to 2020 Centers for Disease Control data. 

From Kleinsmith’s perspective, Narcan’s availability is another safety measure at school sites, similar to having EpiPens for severe allergic reactions, Glucagon for diabetic emergencies, and seizure medications readily available. 

“It’s an emergency response to drug overdose, it’s no different than when we’re responding to an allergic reaction, seizure, or diabetic crisis,” she said. 

The only difference between EpiPens and Narcan is that epinephrine is state-mandated for schools to have on hand for severe allergy attacks, Kleinsmith said, but that might change in the near future. State Assemblymembers Joe Patterson (R-Granite Bay) and Juan Alanis (R-Modesto) introduced Assembly Bill 19: a bill that would require all California school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to have at least two doses of Narcan—or other opiate antagonists—available at all sites, according to an Open States breakdown of the legislation. 

School staff would be trained in Narcan administration on a volunteer basis, and the state would be required to cover the costs or reimburse local agencies and school districts for the Narcan. It was introduced to the Assembly on Dec. 5, but it hadn’t been voted on as of Jan. 30.  

School districts don’t have to wait for the bill to pass, and Santa Maria-Bonita has already trained its staff and teachers who volunteered in Narcan administration. The district worked with county Behavioral Wellness to receive the medication for middle school sites, Kleinsmith said. The middle school health curriculum also includes a unit on fentanyl poisoning risk as part of further education and preparedness. 

“We have to accept the reality we’re in, and we have a fentanyl crisis in this country, and I think we’re responding to it in a responsible manner,” she said. “Overdose is a risk. It’s important to have the ability to respond immediately and not have to wait for EMS to arrive. It’s a life-saving factor; the faster you can get that Narcan [administered] the better the chances are for survival.” 

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