The Pittsburgh Public Schools board will vote later this month on a policy that would allow nurses and school police to administer the drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, in the event someone on school grounds overdoses from opioids.
The policy would rely on a state grant to carry the drug at all of the district’s middle and high schools.
Legally, Pennsylvania school districts have been able to store and administer the drug since 2014, when Act 139 was passed.
If approved by the board, nurses and school police officers will be trained to detect signs of an opioid overdose and how to administer the nasal spray version of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. The antidote can also be administered by injection.
But not all schools have a full-time nurse on staff. Rae-Ann Green, the district’s director of health services, said the district is developing another policy to allow staff to volunteer for training and keeping the naloxone in an accessible location.
“The actual naloxone and emergency medication should be kept in a more central, available, location,” she said. “Usually in schools, the safe is open during the day so people will know where it is. Or if there’s a drawer in the main office, something to that effect. Because if we lock it in the nurse’s office we won’t get it.”
Assistant Superintendent Dara Ware Allen said disciplinary action related to opioids was taken less than 10 times during the last school year, but officials are just thinking ahead.
“So this really is a proactive step where we have not had overdoses," she said. "And we do not have an apparent problem as it relates to pills when you think about the drug offenses and instances in Pittsburgh Public Schools."
While no students have overdosed while at any of the district’s schools, board members said at a policy workshop Tuesday it’s better to have it on hand. Board President Regina Holley noted it can be used for anyone on school grounds, not just students.
“This is a national problem,” she said. “This is not just a Pittsburgh problem.”
First responders carry naloxone, but in the last year several school districts, including Norwin School District in Westmoreland County, have stocked the drug.
In the fall, Governor Tom Wolf and the state’s secretaries of Health and Education urged superintendents to stock the antidote, calling the rate of opioid-related deaths in the state an epidemic.
So far, there have been 66 opioid overdose deaths in Allegheny County in 2016, according to OverdoseFreePA. In 2015 there were 422 deaths in the county, including one 18-year-old and one 12-year-old.
Green said 95 percent of the district’s nurses have completed an online training and if the measure is approved at the board’s July 27 legislative session, nurses will receive hands-on training during in-service in August.