With news this week about a Providence police officer who saved an overdosing man’s life by administering an opioid antagonist, Rep. David A. Bennett has introduced legislation that would require public schools that educate students in grades 6 through 12 to be equipped with such kits to treat opioid overdoses.
Representative Bennett, who works as a psychiatric nurse, said, in light of the epidemic of overdoses in the region and the fact that school nurse teachers – and others – are easily able to administer them, it makes sense to make the inexpensive kits available in public schools.
“Unfortunately, teens are not immune to the overdose epidemic, and this is a step we can take to save lives. Equipping schools with Narcan could also save others, such as parents or anyone else who happens to come on or near school property and has a problem. There could be a situation where a person who has nothing to do with the school happens to be on school grounds before or after school, just because it’s a public, accessible place. It doesn’t really matter who or why. As places where a lot of teens and adults are, and where nurses are available, I think schools ought to have this simple tool on hand because it will save lives,” said Representative Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).
Naloxone, also known by the trade name Narcan, is a medication that reverses the effects of overdoses of opiates, including heroin and many commonly abused prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. The drug generally has no adverse effects if given to someone who is not overdosing, and is administered as either a nasal spray or an injection that can be delivered even through clothing. While it is a prescription drug, Walgreens has worked with the state to allow any person to buy it without their own prescription at any of its 26 Rhode Island stores under a collaborative practice agreement with the Miriam Hospital.
As such, a person such as a school nurse teacher could currently obtain Narcan on their own, but it should not have to be a personal responsibility or cost, said Representative Bennett.
Currently, many first responders, including all State Police, are equipped with the kits. But minutes count in saving overdose victims, and having a kit in the school nurse’s office would mean the drug could be administered sooner, said Representative Bennett.
“Schools already have a nurse on the premises, and they can already administer things like EpiPens and insulin. But if they don’t have the tools they need, they might have to just stand there and watch helplessly as a person passes away, waiting for someone else with Narcan to arrive. We know that overdoses are a real problem here, so we should do everything we can to make sure all the professionals who might need it have the proper access to Narcan so they are equipped to protect the public as best they can,” said Representative Bennett.
The legislation (2015-H 5047) would also specifically provide immunity from penalty or civil action to school personnel as a result of their efforts to use the kit to help an apparent victim, although such immunity is also provided under the state’s existing Good Samaritain law.
If the bill is passed, Representative Bennett hopes that numerous members of the staff at each school would be trained in recognizing an overdose and using the kit so it can be useful even when the school nurse teacher is unavailable. He has been working with representatives of the nurses and teachers professions to ensure the legislation is satisfactory in terms of existing contracts and regulations.