The widespread abuse of heroin has gotten so bad that many schools around the United States are stocking naloxone, the drug that can prevent deaths due to heroin overdoses.
Some states are allowing or encouraging schools to stock naloxone. Going further, Rhode Island now requires all middle, junior high and high schools to stock it.
The National Association of School Nurses is pushing all schools to keep naloxone on hand.
Naloxone (the brand name is Narcan) works to reverse the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers. An overdose of opioid drugs can suppress someone's breathing, which means that seconds can count. While it is unlikely to be needed in a school, having it on hand could save the life if someone such as a child, parent or school employee overdoses on heroin or prescription painkillers. Overdoses do not happen often in schools, but they do occur.
This move on the part of schools is another effect of the heroin epidemic in the United States. Heroin overdose deaths in the country have gone up five-fold from 2001 to 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, 71% of overdose deaths relating to prescription drugs involved opioid painkillers, a category that includes heroin, oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.
Naloxone can be given as either an injection or a nasal spray, but it works almost immediately to get someone who overdosed breathing normally again. It has no major side effects.
From July 2014 to August 2015, 29 children aged 17 and younger were administered naloxone in Rhode Island, according to that state's health department, including once at a school, although it was later determined the student had not overdosed. Naloxone is safe, even if given to someone who isn't overdosing.
Some states have addressed the liability issues of treating someone with naloxone outside of a medical facility. Rhode Island has passed a law saying that no one can be held liable for using naloxone. Laws in Kentucky and New York explicitly allow school employees to obtain and administer naloxone and excuse them from liability.