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Pennsylvania school districts stock up on life-saving Narcan

| Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, 5:39 p.m.

Dr. Neil Capretto has treated dozens of teenagers for opioid addiction in recent years.

Some told him they used to shoot up before or during school. One student athlete told him he had used drugs during halftime at games.

Adolescents are a small minority among opioid addicts, said Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center.

“But there's enough that if there's an overdose, you want to save that kid,” he said.

That includes if it happens at school.

Some districts in Western Pennsylvania are adopting policies that allow them to stock naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes. Gov. Tom Wolf in February announced that manufacturer Adapt Pharma will provide free cartons of Narcan to schools that want it.

More than 2,000 overdose deaths have been reported in Allegheny County since 2008, including 177 this year, state data show. Ten adolescents have died as the result of an overdose since 2008, less than 1 percent of the total.

“It's enough of a minority that you might as well have it,” Capretto said about Narcan.

School officials have said that the move to stock the antidote is not a result of students overdosing on school property; rather, it's a precaution.

“But that time has the potential to be upon us, so I really commend the school districts for trying to get ahead of it and be ready if indeed it does occur,” said Chris Bell, chair of the Allegheny County Emergency Medical Services Council.

Bell, who is the EMS chief in Elizabeth Township, couldn't recall an incident in which paramedics were called to a school for an overdose, but paramedics do get calls about teenagers who have overdoses elsewhere.

“Our philosophy is that it's a good thing for the schools to have it,” he said. “Naturally, we hope they don't have to use it.”

Districts that stock or plan to stock the antidote include Pittsburgh Public Schools, Mt. Lebanon, Plum, Norwin, Yough and Hampton Township. Districts such as Penn Hills and Gateway opted to pass on creating a policy, citing their proximity to hospitals and other emergency responders who carry Narcan.

After the board approved a policy in June, several staff members in the Freeport Area School District were trained to administer the drug, which is kept in a locked cabinet in the nurse's office.

“We weren't necessarily focused on what it was for or to prevent, but as a potentially life-saving device,” Superintendent Ian Magness said.

Other districts that have Narcan have pointed out that there are people other than students on each school campus who could potentially benefit from the life-saving product.

A parent or another adult could overdose in the parking lot or near school grounds, said Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“I'd be much more concerned about that than the actual adolescents themselves, honestly,” she said.

Having naloxone in schools is a “commonsense” precaution that she hopes will help prevent overdose deaths.

“Realistically, having Narcan in schools is like having an EpiPen,” Hacker said, referring to the epinephrine injection used in case of a severe allergic reaction.

“It's a just-in-case situation. It's just another piece to the puzzle.”

Elizabeth Behrman is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or Lbehrman@tribweb.com.

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