Akron Public Schools Will Stock Naloxone to Reverse Opioid Overdoses

On July 10, the Akron Board of Education in Akron, Ohio, voted 5–1 to allow middle and high school resource officers in the city’s public schools to carry naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote.

The policy will go into effect in September 2017.

“I just hope that, if it’s necessary, it’ll be available to save somebody,” board member John Otterman told the Akron Beacon Journal.

Akron police officers were trained in August 2016 to administer Narcan, a brand name of naloxone, to overdose victims. In September, they will carry two doses of the nasal spray in each of the city’s nine public middle schools and six public high schools.

Not everyone supports the policy. Debbie Walsh, the only board member to vote against the measure, expressed concern that the availability of naloxone in schools could result in more students turning to drugs.

“The people who talked to me said they agreed with me,” Walsh later told NBC News. “They, too, are worried that having it on hand might be creating an even bigger problem by sending the message to kids: ‘Don’t worry, take drugs. We’ve got Narcan to save you.’”

Dr. Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, disagrees with Walsh’s stance. He told NBC News that no existing evidence shows that the availability of Narcan encourages people to use drugs.

Davis also said that making naloxone available in middle and high schools is good public health policy. He compared stocking school cabinets with Narcan to placing defibrillators against gym walls.

What Is Naloxone?

In a matter of minutes, naloxone can restore normal respiration in someone who has stopped breathing because of an opioid-related overdose. Opioids include heroin and prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.

Emergency department physicians, paramedics and other first responders commonly administer naloxone by injecting it into muscle tissue or spraying it into the nose. The medication binds to opioid receptors in the brain to block the effects of these drugs.

From April 2016 to March 2017, paramedics at Denver Health Medical Center injected naloxone nearly 1,000 times, according to a report by The Denver Post. During that time, it was administered in parks, public bathrooms and homes throughout the city.

In 2017, Steve Hulac, a paramedic lieutenant for Denver Health, told The Denver Post that paramedics at the medical center are using the antidote about three times per day.

In recent years, naloxone has become available over the counter in a number of U.S. locations. The medication is available without prescription at CVS pharmacy locations in 41 states and at Walgreens stores in more than 34 states and the District of Columbia.

Opioid Epidemic in Ohio

Ohio has been deeply affected by the opioid epidemic. The number of unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths among Ohio residents rose from 296 in 2003 to 2,590 in 2015. These deaths include those from prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl.

Prescription Opioid Overdose Deaths in Ohio, Excluding Fentanyl:

Year Number of Deaths
2003 221
2005 388
2007 504
2009 543
2011 795
2013 644
2015 667

Source: Ohio Department of Health

Eighty-three Ohioans aged 15 to 19 died of opioid overdose from 2014 to 2016, according to data from the state’s health department. However, no documented opioid overdose deaths occurred among Ohio youths aged 10 to 14 in 2016.

Summit County, where Akron sits, has been greatly affected by carfentanil, a synthetic opioid estimated to be 100 times as toxic as fentanyl and 10,000 times as potent as morphine. The drug is commonly used to sedate large animals.

From July 2016 to January 2017, the Summit County coroner documented 140 overdose deaths involving carfentanil.

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