Oct 30, 2023 - Health

Exclusive: White House urges schools to carry overdose reversal drug

a picture of naloxone nasal spray in a student's backpack

Naloxone nasal spray in a student's backpack. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Monday will send a letter urging all schools to keep an opioid overdose reversal drug on hand and train staff and students on how to use it.

Why it matters: The request is a response to the grim reality that opioid overdoses — particularly those involving illicit fentanyl — have risen rapidly among children and teenagers in recent years.

  • The reversal drug, naloxone, is highly effective when administered quickly, but it isn't provided in most fatal youth overdoses and may be given incorrectly when it is.

Driving the news: The letter from the Department of Education and the White House drug policy office, which was provided exclusively to Axios, will be sent to every state education agency, intergovernmental groups, and local, state, and national education associations, an Education Department spokesperson said.

"Our schools are on the frontlines of this epidemic, but our teachers and students can be equipped with tools to save lives," wrote Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

  • Studies show that naloxone access can reduce the overdose death rate and does not increase youth drug use, they wrote.
  • Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone, became the first opioid reversal drug to be made available over the counter this fall.
  • The White House will host a bipartisan youth substance use prevention summit later Monday.

The big picture: The opioid epidemic is becoming deadlier among children and teenagers.

  • Median monthly overdose deaths among adolescents ages 10-19 increased by 109% between the second half of 2019 and the second half of 2021, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl increased by 182%.
  • The same report found that potential bystanders were present during two-thirds of those deaths, but there was evidence naloxone was administered in only 30% of them.
  • The fact that naloxone didn't stop those overdoses from becoming fatal suggests "it might not have been administered soon enough or at a sufficient dosage, or its effectiveness was affected" by use of other drugs, the CDC said.

Between the lines: Schools around the country have already begun stocking naloxone, NPR recently reported.

  • The Los Angeles Unified School District began keeping it in all schools last year, and over the course of the school year, naloxone was administered 31 times, per NPR.
  • This school year, 11 of the 20 largest school districts in the country stocked naloxone in all of their schools, according to an NPR analysis. Last year, only five of the 20 did.
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