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Narcan is now available to every school in Vermont

A photo of a medication box reading "Narcan, nasal spray" with a spray bottle in packaging next to it. To the right of the Narcan is a pile of pamphlets in red and blue, reading: "Overdose rescue kit: How to give nasal naloxone for suspected opioid overdose."
Taylor Dobbs
/
Vermont Public File
The Vermont Department of Health wants every K-12 school in the state to add one more thing to their emergency kits: naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug best known by the brand name Narcan.

The Vermont Department of Health wants every K-12 school in the state to add one more thing to their emergency kits: naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug best known by the brand name Narcan. They’re offering virtual trainings to schools about how to spot a suspected overdose, and, for free, they’ll send the medication to any school that requests it.

Deputy Commissioner of Health Kelly Dougherty said the state wants schools to keep naloxone on hand the way they do EpiPens and defibrillators.

“It is a basic life-saving first aid supply that we think they should have available in the event that something terrible happens in a school,” she said.

Health officials say that no one has died yet from an overdose at a school in Vermont, and that overdoses on school grounds in general remain rare. But they do happen. And outside the schoolhouse doors, the state is seeing a sharp and stubborn rise in fatal overdoses.

“We really want to get out in front of this,” Dougherty said. Health officials, she added, are particularly concerned about fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that is driving fatalities, increasingly showing up in counterfeit prescription pills.

Thanks to funding from legal settlements with opioid manufacturers, the state has been moving aggressively to expand access to naloxone. Last year, health officials even announced they would mail a kit with two doses of Narcan and 10 fentanyl test strips directly to your home.

The push to get naloxone into schools is also a national phenomenon. Last year, over half of the country’s 20 largest school districts reported stocking Narcan, according to NPR.

“I want families and the public and school officials to know that you can use Narcan on anybody ... Any age, any size, any time, any place — for any concern.”
Rebecca Bell, pediatric critical care physician at the University of Vermont Children's Hospital

And while the focus may be on teens, younger kids can and do come across opioids too. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care physician at the University of Vermont Children's Hospital, said she’s seeing cases where young children accidentally ingest an opioid at home and become symptomatic later at school.

“Because they're young, it may not be on the top of people's minds that this could be opiate-related,” she said.

Narcan, a nasal spray, doesn’t require medical training to administer. It’s also safe to use — even if the person who receives the medication wasn’t actually suffering from an overdose. And that’s the message Bell wants to drive home with this initiative: when in doubt, go ahead and use Narcan while you wait for an ambulance. It can’t hurt, and it might save that child’s life.

“I want families and the public and school officials to know that you can use Narcan on anybody,” said Bell, who also serves as the president of the Vermont Medical Society. “Any age, any size, any time, any place — for any concern.”

Many Vermont schools have been keeping naloxone on hand for years now. Kelly Landwehr, the lead nurse for the Addison Central School District, said Narcan has been available at Middlebury Union High School for at least five years. More recently, the district expanded access to all its elementary schools.

But Landwehr, who is also president of the Vermont State School Nurses’ Association, said that what’s so valuable about the state’s initiative is that it’ll make access to the medication so much easier.

“I'm fortunate that I can get Narcan from the Turning Point Center of Addison County right here in Middlebury, but not all schools and school districts have a facility or some type of access like that,” she said.

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Lola is Vermont Public's education and youth reporter, covering schools, child care, the child protection system and anything that matters to kids and families. She's previously reported in Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida (where she grew up) and Canada (where she went to college).