First aid kits at some San Diego County schools now include Narcan, an overdose medication at the forefront of the opioid epidemic.
California Governor Gavin Newsom plans to allocate $3.5 million to ensure access to the drug for all middle and high schools, including in San Diego, where fentanyl deaths have been declared a public health crisis.
Seventh-grader mom Mady Westhaver does her best to keep her kids from becoming statistics.
“My mom says don’t do it because if you do it once, you’re addicted,” Westhaver said from the back seat of her mother’s SUV.
In some cases, the cost of trial pills these days can cost you your life. Such was the case with a 15-year-old high school girl in the Los Angeles area who took prescription drugs last year after taking fentanyl pills.
Her death is likely one of several statewide incidents behind Governor Newsom’s push to make Narcan accessible to all middle and high schools in the state.
Learn more about the impact of the fentanyl crisis on local communities in NBC 7’s in-depth draft The Poison Pill: San Diego’s Battle with the Fentanyl Crisis. See here.
“The more they know they have it, the more they’ll want to use it because they know they have Narcan,” Mady’s mom Heather Westhaver said. She is concerned about drug availability, which leads to risky behavior among teenagers.
“If it grows and there are problems, I think it’s necessary to have it on campus and be sure that we can save someone’s life,” explained parent Tommy Cotner. But he is also concerned.
“Kids might think it’s okay to take risks, try drugs and overdose, because we have something that can save them on campus,” he added.
The San Diego and Poway Unified School Districts have already equipped their schools with the Narcan system.
Susan Barndollar, executive director of care and wellness at SDUSD, said Narcan is not a guaranteed lifeline.
She says she understands the parents’ concerns, but notes that, like the EpiPens, they want Narcan to be available to anyone who comes to campus and needs it.
“I’d hate to know there’s a lifesaving drug, but it’s not in place to potentially save someone’s life,” Barndollar said.
Barndollar said that Narcan has already been used on campuses several times, but due to confidentiality and county protocols, she doesn’t know if it has been used for overdoses.
“If someone meets the criteria and doesn’t respond for whatever reason, we give it because it’s a good drug, because even if it’s not a fentanyl overdose, it won’t harm you. So it’s a good precaution,” she explained.
With San Diego Unified middle and high schools already full, Governor Newsom’s $3.5 million plan will allow the district to expand access to elementary schools – an unfortunate sign of the times, given Ready Children’s Hospital doctors say they’ve seen children as young as 2 years. overdose aged from accidental exposure to fentanyl.