SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (CIRCA) — Opioid overdoses continue to claim more lives every year, and schools across the country are not turning a blind eye.
The mortality rate of children and adolescents due to prescription and illicit opioid overdoses nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016, according to a recent report published by JAMA Network Open.
Some high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools have started stocking opioid overdose antidote Narcan.
“We do know that there's an increase in use by students. Unfortunately, it seems like it might be trending younger a little bit in some cases, which is obviously a concern, not just for the schools, but also for the community at large," said Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools superintendent Tim Hall.
More than 900,000 children between 12 and 17 years old reported using heroin or misusing prescription pills within the last year, according to the 2017 national Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, can help revive someone who is overdosing on opioids, and the Sault area schools have joined a growing list of districts making sure they are equipped with the lifesaving drug.
Judge Eric Blubaugh, who is the vice president of the the Families Against Narcotics (FAN) Chippewa County chapter, compared keeping Narcan around schools to keeping a supply of insulin for diabetics.
"It’s the same with Narcan. If we have it at our disposal and we can somehow combat an overdose of opiates, then we should use that,” Blubaugh said.
The Sault Ste. Marie district will have two people trained to administer Narcan, Hall said. It also will have a procedure in place to call 911 if the medication has to be used.
And though it might seem shocking to think there is a need for Narcan in elementary schools, Hall said every school in the district will carry the antidote.
"We're not really expecting that elementary kids are gonna show up under the influence of opioids," Hall said.
"We do know that there's an increase in use by students. Unfortunately, it seems like it might be trending younger a little bit in some cases."
"What happens if a parent or grandparent shows up or some member of the community to watch a basketball game or attend grandparents day or maybe one of the hundreds of other activities that we have the public in our buildings for?" Hall explained. "What happens if someone in one of those groups shows up at a building and is in need of this medication?”
Currently, there doesn't seem to be federal data tracking the number of drug overdoses happening at schools, which might raise the question of the need for resources to go toward stocking the antidote.
But Hall disagrees.
“It's a growing problem. I think there will be more schools that adopt this practice. If not, certainly more policy. And I think there's a lot of people working on trying to curb this epidemic," Hall said.
For now, it will not cost the Sault schools any extra money because the local FAN chapter has agreed to provide the medication for the district.
“If it saves one life ever, the impact is wonderful," Blubaugh said.