As the numbers in the Wabash Valley’s heroin and opioid epidemic continues to climb, police and school officials are taking steps this school year to prevent overdose deaths.
A supply of Narcan — also known as naloxone — and training on how to administer it will be provided to all Vigo County school staff in case of an overdose event at school or during extracurricular events on school property.
At the suggestion of Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing, the Vigo County School Corp. is putting a plan together to combat overdoses by administering the antidote.
“We know that the opioid issue is out of control,” Superintendent Danny Tanoos said Friday, talking about the evolving plan to supply schools with the antidote and training.
A conversation with Sheriff Ewing sparked the plan, Tanoos said, with the sheriff offering to provide the Narcan and the training for school nurses to administer it.
A new law that went into effect in July allows schools to stock naloxone and allows school nurses and school employees who have received training to administer it.
Senate Enrolled Act 392 expands the list of emergency medications that schools may keep on hand to include epinephrine, albuterol and naloxone.
Schools are not required to report if they stock any of the drug, only if they administer it. Because most schools have not stocked Narcan in the past, the state Department of Education does not have reports about the number of times it has been used in schools.
According to the Vigo County Coroner’s Office, 20 opioid overdose deaths have been confirmed so far this year through the end of July.
That is compared to 26 opioid overdose deaths for all of 2016, 25 for 2015 and 16 in 2014, said Donna Weger, office manager for the coroner’s office.
No deaths have been reported among school-age children, she said. The youngest opioid overdose death reported was for a person age 24, with the oldest person in their 70s.
Tanoos said no local school has experienced an overdose by either students or adults due to heroin or opioids, but there have been instances of students who come to school lethargic after taking drugs at home. Those students have been transported for treatment, he said.
Tanoos said he has had conversations with users of heroin and other drugs, and they have shared that the dangerous drugs are easily accessible in the community. He said he has also heard stories about overdoses occurring, but the other people present “scatter” to avoid arrest or questioning, rather than trying to help the person in crisis.
School staff and the students will be encouraged to report possible overdoses during school or at after school events so that appropriate efforts can be taken to save the victim’s life. That message will be shared as part of the back-to-school meetings principals and staff have with students, the superintendent said.
“Every life is worth saving, and we have to get away from the idea that there are throw-away people and throw-away kids,” Tanoos said. “The school board feels that way, and so do I.”
Sheriff Ewing said he thinks supplying Narcan makes sense in schools.
School nurses carry epi-pens to assist students with severe allergic reactions, he said, and Narcan offers assistance for a student or adult experiencing an overdose.
Tanoos said the drugs will likely not be available as of the start of school Wednesday.
“We are now working on pulling a plan together,” he said. “Hopefully by mid-September, we will have everyone trained who can use Narcan.”
For information about the Indiana Department of Education’s rules on SEA 392 and Narcan in schools, go online to http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/health/sea-392-faq-document_1.pdf.