Fighting drugs with drugs might sound like an oxymoron, but it could be how local schools handle a potential problem.
The commonwealth announced earlier this month that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration teamed up with Adapt Pharma to create an initiative that would make naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan, available free of charge to public high schools.
It’s a nasal spray-delivered drug that could offset effects from drug overdoses, such as from heroin, when administered appropriately by a trained professional.
But some area school district health administrators said they’re weighting whether to apply for the drug.
Penns Valley and State College area school districts have access to the drug in other ways that could free up doses for other districts if they pass on obtaining it.
“It has its benefits, but after that the district would pick up the cost,” Penns Valley Area High School nurse Polly Nicosia said.
The departments of Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, and State and Education opened the application process for 642 public high schools in the commonwealth to receive a free two-dose carton of the antidote.
Nicosia said the doses have a shelf life of two years.
The company that provides the Narcan normally charges $75 per dose, she added.
We’re trying to make a decision that’s in our best interest. It’s probably a good idea, but not sure Penns Valley would necessarily need it. We’re talking with administration and the district physician (Craig Collison).
Polly Nicosia, Penns Valley Area High School nurse
“We’re trying to make a decision that’s in our best interest,” Nicosia said. “It’s probably a good idea, but (I’m) not sure Penns Valley would necessarily need it. We’re talking with administration and the district physician (Craig Collison).”
She said emergency medical services that have naloxone on hand are less than five minutes away from the school. It is easily and readily available in times of emergency.
It also might not be necessary at State College Area High School, said Jeanne Knouse, director of student services.
“We had meetings with the nurses and understand the benefits,” Knouse said. “We never had a heroin problem, and because we feel confident in the SROs, we declined the doses.”
Knouse said the district has three Student Resource Officers who are supplied with naloxone and trained to use it.
District administrators can, however, change their minds, Knouse said.
Eligibility: Fill out application; Adopt a board-passed policy; Complete nurse training.
According to a statement released by the state: To be eligible, a public high school must submit a completed application to the Department of Health that includes a standing order from the school physician allowing the school nurse to receive and administer Narcan; a specific policy adopted by the board of school directors with specific reference to Narcan administration or such language included as an addendum to the district’s current medication administration policy; and a statement that the school nurse has completed the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s approved training.
Once approved, schools will receive a single carton of Narcan, which will be distributed through state health centers beginning in early May, a report from the state said.
“That means I would need training, but if I’m not here, then we would need other people to be trained,” Nicosia said. “This is a preventative measure, but we’re erring on the side of caution.”
Knouse said training would include ways to administer the drug and how to handle a student who is given Narcan, as a side effect could be violent behavior.
According to the commonwealth, Pennsylvania is the first state to implement this kind of program.
“The opioid addiction and overdose epidemic affects people in every walk of life in every corner of our state, and this includes our young children in our schools,” Wolf said in a statement. “By expanding access to this overdose reversal drug, we are doing our best to ensure that the first responders to the scene of an overdose can save lives. In addition, schools can play a crucial role in changing the course of addiction by working closely with their students and families. It is our responsibility to ensure that struggling Pennsylvanians can receive our help when they need it.”
Nicosia said that in her three years as Penns Valley Area High School nurse, she’s never been in the position to need such a drug.
“So I’m confident there are other professionals (who) could carry that out,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at all options. It’s a preventative and safe drug that can reverse the (overdose) symptoms and does not harm the unresponsive person.”