By Dave Russell
The Jackson County Board of Education has set out to prevent opioid overdoses via the distribution of naloxone, a drug antagonist that reverses the effects of opioids. It saves lives in Jackson County almost every day.
Prior to the board meeting, the JCPS handbook made no mention of naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan.
“We have recently adopted the policy that went to the board for approval on March 28,” said Kelly Doppke, director of Student Support Services.
The school system took up the program on its own volition and was not under a mandate from the state or federal level. Teachers will not be mandated to train to administer naloxone.
Doppke did not know if some teachers might have kept naloxone close at hand prior to the decision.
“Our SROs have had it for a while under the direction of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office,” she said. “Since naloxone is a prescription medication, students are not permitted to carry it without proper authorization according to our medication administration policy.”
Prior to this policy, school nurses did not have access, either, and they don’t have it yet.
“JCPS is working to develop training plans for nurses, and hope to have naloxone soon after that,” she said.
Locations of the kits would depend on the school, and the policy says “Naloxone devices are stored in secure but unlocked and easily accessible locations.”
“We expect each building to develop a plan for storing the devices, similar to how we store our EpiPens for emergency use,” Doppke said. “Some buildings are large enough that we may have multiple devices and trained users throughout the building, while other campuses would only need one device stored in the main office or with the nurse.”
The Jackson County Department of Public Health received a grant to prevent opioid misuse and overdose. The grant allows for the purchase of naloxone and training for staff, she said.
The policy does not require emergency naloxone to be available at activities held off school grounds during or after the school day, including field trips or offsite athletic events, or during transportation to or from school.
The JCPS student handbook will be updated soon, she said.
According to the new policy:
Each school principal shall designate one or more school personnel to receive initial training and annual retraining from a school nurse or qualified representative of the local health department regarding the storage and emergency use of naloxone devices. Only such trained personnel are authorized to administer naloxone to persons believed to be having an overdose reaction.
The principal, in collaboration with appropriate school personnel, shall create an emergency action plan for the use of naloxone that complies with all state law requirements. Principals are encouraged to include in the plan school-wide employee training in recognizing symptoms of opioid overdose.
“The grant was written by Healthy Carolinians of Jackson County Coalition, which is a program of the health department,” said Anna Lippard, spokeswoman for the health department. “Healthy Carolinians of Jackson County is a community-based advocacy group of volunteer agencies and community members working to improve the healthcare for residents of Jackson County through improved services, increased efficient utilization of health services and community empowerment.”
While the health department has a naloxone kit and training program in place, at this point they are not involved in a JCPS training program.
“If JCPS requests for their staff to be trained we will be happy to do so, but don’t have anything planned at this moment,” Lippard said. “Bottom line, within our capacity, we will train anyone who requests a training.
Key partners for the grant include Harris EMS and Paramedicine Program and Western Carolina University.
“Through this grant we will educate the community and local prescribers on the dangers of opioids as well as how to manage your medications and dispose of them properly, increase availability of Narcan, and work to improve capacity around treatment and recovery referral process for those who are post-overdose,” Lippard said. “We will train first responders and firefighters, law enforcement, and community members to administer Narcan. Further, this grant allows for the purchase of naloxone and distribution of Narcan kits.”
This grant also includes the Lock Your Meds Campaign, which the health department has been promoting the last several months, she said.
“We are also distributing medication lockboxes and bags through the library in Sylva,” Lippard said.
Free kits and training available
Free naloxone trainings and kits are being offered through the Jackson County Department of Public Health. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose.
The medication works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain receptors. Naloxone use is not dangerous to those who are not having an overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, additional people were present in nearly 40 percent of overdose-related deaths, while 80 percent of overdoses happen in the home.
Allowing bystanders to have naloxone on hand can help prevent a fatal overdose.
Contact Katie Hutchinson at the Jackson County Department of Public Health to schedule a free training and naloxone kit. This program has been made possible with funds from the N.C. Grants to Prevent Prescription Drug/Overdose-Related Deaths. Hutchinson can be reached by calling 587-8291 or emailing Katherinehutchinson@jacksonnc.org.