Durbin Leads Senators Calling for Expanded Availability of Life-Saving Drug on School Campuses
[WASHINGTON, DC] – Nearly one-quarter of high school students have used, sold, or been offered drugs on a school property, and reports of students overdosing on campus are growing in frequency. To better equip emergency personnel on the front lines of this crisis, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) led a group of nine Senators in writing to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging the agency to expand the availability of naloxone on school campuses. Today’s letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
“As part of a comprehensive strategy to address the growing rate of overdose deaths due to heroin and prescription opioids, we urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action to encourage the availability of naloxone and other opioid antagonists at schools for use in the event of an emergency opioid overdose,” the Senators wrote. “Too many young people have already lost their lives due to opioid drug overdoses. Access to naloxone can save lives, and we should do all we can to make this life-saving medicine available for overdose prevention in schools.”
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, if it is administered in a timely way. Naloxone has no side effects or potential for abuse, and is widely recognized as an important tool to help prevent drug overdose deaths. However, many communities struggle to get naloxone to those on the front lines who need it most.
The Heroin Crisis Act, which became law in Illinois in September, permits school districts to maintain a supply of naloxone for school nurses and other trained personnel to administer in an emergency. States including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Vermont have also enacted similar laws.
Today’s letter is endorsed by the National Association of School Nurses, which recommends that school nurses facilitate access to naloxone in schools.
“School nurses are first responders in the school setting and are crucial primary prevention agents in school communities,” said Beth Mattey, President of the National Association of School Nurses. “Once someone takes an opioid overdose, the opioids decrease respiration. There is a window where this emergency medication will reverse the effects of respiratory depression. If we can save a life during that window we want that opportunity. Often, reversing the effects of an overdose may be the first step in recovery.”
Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new a new effort to address the ongoing problem of prescription drug and heroin addiction and abuse. Under that announcement, state, local, and private sector partners have committed to double number of providers that prescribe naloxone – a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
In June, Durbin and Reed introduced the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand access to naloxone, as well as drug overdose prevention programs that have been proven to save lives. The Overdose Prevention Act aims to decrease the rate of drug overdose deaths by improving access to naloxone, supporting overdose prevention programs, enhancing surveillance of overdose occurrences, and establishing a coordinated federal plan of action to address the epidemic.
Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has more than doubled, and in most states the number now exceeds the number of traffic-related deaths. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of preventable injury death, resulting in nearly 44,000 deaths each year, with most involving either prescription opioids or heroin. In Illinois, there were 1,652 overdose deaths in 2014 – an increase of nearly 29 percent since 2010.
The full text of today’s letter is available below.
October 29, 2015
The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Burwell:
Thank you for your efforts to fight drug abuse and overdose, especially among young people. As part of a comprehensive strategy to address the growing rate of overdose deaths due to heroin and prescription opioids, we urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action to encourage the availability of naloxone and other opioid antagonists at schools for use in the event of an emergency opioid overdose.
As the heroin crisis grows and overdose deaths increase, there is a growing risk of overdoses occurring at school. In May 2015, a high school student in Pennsylvania overdosed on heroin at school and was taken to the hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 17.8 percent of high school students had used a prescription drug, including opioids at least once in their life, 2.2 percent had used heroin, and 22.1 percent had used, sold, or been offered drugs on school property.
The National Association of School Nurses recommends that school nurses facilitate access to naloxone in schools. Illinois, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont all have laws or programs allowing school nurses and other personnel to administer naloxone at schools. The majority of these states, however, do not provide any funding for the acquisition of naloxone, or training in its use, and few schools have decided to maintain a supply at this time.
We encourage HHS to utilize existing programs to assist schools in the acquisition of naloxone and the training of school nurses and other personnel in its use. We urge HHS to make it clear to states that Substance Abuse Block Grant funds can be used to fund naloxone purchases and training programs for schools. We also urge HHS to make grants available for schools to purchase naloxone through the Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program, and any other program that might help schools acquire naloxone and train nurses and other personnel in its application.
Too many young people have already lost their lives due to opioid drug overdoses. Access to naloxone can save lives, and we should do all we can to make this life-saving medicine available for overdose prevention in schools. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.
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