WASHINGTON, DC –-(ENEWSPF)–October 29, 2015. Nearly one-quarter of high school students have used, sold, or been offered drugs on a school property, and reports of students overdosing on campus are growing in frequency. To better equip emergency personnel on the front lines of this crisis, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) led a group of nine Senators in writing to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging the agency to expand the availability of naloxone on school campuses. Today’s letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
“As part of a comprehensive strategy to address the growing rate of overdose deaths due to heroin and prescription opioids, we urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action to encourage the availability of naloxone and other opioid antagonists at schools for use in the event of an emergency opioid overdose,” the Senators wrote. “Too many young people have already lost their lives due to opioid drug overdoses. Access to naloxone can save lives, and we should do all we can to make this life-saving medicine available for overdose prevention in schools.”
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, if it is administered in a timely way. Naloxone has no side effects or potential for abuse, and is widely recognized as an important tool to help prevent drug overdose deaths. However, many communities struggle to get naloxone to those on the front lines who need it most.
The Heroin Crisis Act, which became law in Illinois in September, permits school districts to maintain a supply of naloxone for school nurses and other trained personnel to administer in an emergency. States including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Vermont have also enacted similar laws.
Today’s letter is endorsed by the National Association of School Nurses, which recommends that school nurses facilitate access to naloxone in schools.
Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new a new effort to address the ongoing problem of prescription drug and heroin addiction and abuse. Under that announcement, state, local, and private sector partners have committed to double number of providers that prescribe naloxone – a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
In June, Durbin and Reed introduced the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand access to naloxone, as well as drug overdose prevention programs that have been proven to save lives. The Overdose Prevention Act aims to decrease the rate of drug overdose deaths by improving access to naloxone, supporting overdose prevention programs, enhancing surveillance of overdose occurrences, and establishing a coordinated federal plan of action to address the epidemic.
Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has more than doubled, and in most states the number now exceeds the number of traffic-related deaths. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of preventable injury death, resulting in nearly 44,000 deaths each year, with most involving either prescription opioids or heroin. In Illinois, there were 1,652 overdose deaths in 2014 – an increase of nearly 29 percent since 2010.