Nov 2, 2023 - News

CMS weighs putting lifesaving overdose-reversal medication in its schools

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 29: In this photo illustration, a package of Narcan (Naloxone HCI) nasal spray is displayed on March 29, 2023 in San Francisco, California. The FDA announced plans to make opioid reversal drug Narcan available for over-the-counter purchases as drug fatality rates continue to skyrocket across the United States. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public schools nationwide are increasingly using Narcan to counter the effects of youth opioid overdoses. In Charlotte, though, administrators are still figuring out how and when to stock schools with the lifesaving medication.

The county sheriff is adamant that equipping schools with Narcan is necessary to prevent teen overdoses from becoming fatal. North Carolina’s attorney general, who was involved with a massive legal settlement with drugmakers over their role in stoking the opioid crisis, wants widespread distribution of Narcan, too.

Why it matters: Narcan has become more accessible — the FDA approved its over-the-counter sale last spring — at a time when opioid overdoses among teenagers are on the rise.

  • Naloxone (the generic name for the drug) can be used to treat overdoses from heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid medications, per the CDC.
  • Drugs like cocaine are sometimes laced with fentanyl. Even a very small amount of the opioid can be lethal.

What’s happening: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which receives Narcan from the county health department, will eventually put the medication in its buildings. But there’s no timeline for doing so, and the district hasn’t answered Axios’ further questions about its plans. Such a move would require a policy update and approval from the CMS board.

  • “The plan is to have Narcan in as many schools as possible, but specifically in the high schools and middle schools,” spokesperson Susan Vernon-Devlin told Axios.
  • The district will put Narcan next to the defibrillators in schools, says CMS coordinated school health specialist Monica Adamian, the Charlotte Ledger reported.
  • CMS declined to provide Axios an interview with Adamian.

“Community issues become school issues,” CMS board vice chair Stephanie Sneed told Axios. “We have to be prepared.”

Of note: This week, the Biden administration sent a letter urging all schools to keep naloxone on hand and train staff and students on how to use it, Axios’ Caitlin Owens reported.

Between the lines: Local parents told the Observer recently they’re concerned about fentanyl — a synthetic opioid — in CMS schools. They’re also worried CMS isn’t doing enough to educate students on the dangers of fentanyl.

What they’re saying: “I don’t understand. We know our kids are involved in these things. We know our kids will be subjected to them. Why don’t we take every precaution to prevent that? If Narcan is out there and we have the ability to purchase it and distribute it, why don’t we?” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden told Axios.

  • He called putting Narcan in schools “common sense,” blaming bureaucracy for slowing the process of availing the medication across CMS.

By the numbers: These days, Charlotte EMS workers administer Narcan seven times a day, the Ledger reported in September. From fiscal year 2021-2022, Medic saw a 21% increase in Narcan administration, a spokesperson told Axios.

  • Atrium Health’s emergency departments have seen 350 diagnosed overdose patients, including about 10 patients aged 18 and younger, so far this year, per the Ledger.
  • Atrium and Novant could not provide updated numbers on overdose diagnoses in the Charlotte area by publication of this story.

Zoom out: Schools throughout the U.S. are working to combat youth overdoses. Public schools in Arlington, Va., are already stocked with Narcan. The district also recently started allowing students (as well as administrators and school-safety coordinators) to carry it, Axios D.C. reported.

  • Oregon has public “recovery high schools,” which offer services like support sessions and sobriety coaching for students with substance abuse disorders, Axios’ Emily Harris reported.

For now in the Charlotte area, you can find Narcan at independent and chain pharmacies all over the region, from CVS to Pike’s Pharmacy. See the map of pharmacies where it’s available here. Find more information on Naloxonesaves.org.

What’s next: Mecklenburg County will hold an event Nov. 7  at 8:30am at the Valerie C. Woodward Center to gather input from the community on the use of opioid settlement funds.

  • North Carolina is part of a $26 billion opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three other drug companies over the companies’ alleged involvement in stoking the nation’s opioid crisis, as Axios’ Nathan Bomey reported. North Carolina’s share is about $1.4 billion. Mecklenburg County is expected to receive $72 million over an 18-year period.
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