School officials want to make it easier for parents and teachers to access the overdose prevention medication Narcan to help protect students against the rising scourge of fentanyl.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board discussed the need for additional measures to combat the ongoing fentanyl crisis in the region at a recent meeting, including the possibility of stocking the overdose medication naloxone (Narcan) in elementary schools and finding a way to provide the medication to parents free of charge.
With overdose deaths due to the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl up 3,917% from just five years ago and the increased prevalence of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, the substance has been a continued focus of outreach and education efforts in the school district, city and county.
Recently appointed Interim Superintendent Mark Kelly presented on the issue at a Dec. 15 meeting on behalf of the Health and Safety District Advisory Committee (DAC) which is tasked with making recommendations to the board.
“The Health and Safety DAC wanted to express a recommendation to the board and directions to staff to really think about having measures in place in our schools so should there be an incident we could have a quick response and hopefully save a life,” he said.
These recommendations include making overdose kits “widely available” on campuses and educating students and staff about fentanyl and other opioids as well as how to administer naloxone, according to a letter submitted by the DAC on Nov. 21.
According to Kelly, the district has already received 2,100 kits and a spokesperson for the district said all SMMUSD secondary schools have been stocked with naloxone since 2018. Board members expressed support for expanding this to include all elementary schools as well.
“I would recommend having Narcan available at all of our school sites because we never know who’s going to be on a site, who is going to be near a site,” boardmember Jon Kean said.
He also said there is no risk to administering the medication, even if someone is not experiencing an overdose, but there is great, potentially life-saving benefit.
“Even if you’re wrong when you administer Narcan, you are still not causing any damage to that individual,” he said.
Boardmember Jen Smith highlighted the importance of training in addition to supplying the medication to ensure staff feel comfortable and confident about using the medication.
“I think they feel nervous about it and they don’t understand exactly what Jon said, that you can’t do any harm, so I think that they would feel more comfortable with it.”
Newly elected boardmember Alicia Mignano said she had attended a parent education night on the dangers of fentanyl organized by District PTSAs last month and that she supports supplying naloxone to families in addition to on campuses.
“I also think that we need to try to get Narcan into parent’s hands,” she said. “I know that the PTA council would love to help in distribution and I think that is vital because if everyone has it we can all use it when we need it.”
She advocated finding ways for the District to overcome any cost barriers associated with the drug to be able to offer it free of charge. Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein also suggested supplying test strips which can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl in a substance, acknowledging the reality that students are using drugs and that the District should do what it can to promote their safety.
“We know that children at certain levels are getting their hands on pills, we know that, we’ve had conversations about snapchat and the selling of drugs on our streets here in Santa Monica,” he said. “There are these tools we could be providing to families.”
Mira Wagabaza, the student board member representing Samohi, said fentanyl is an issue that greatly impacts students and that they need to be included in efforts to address it, including naloxone administration training.
“I think students should also have some idea on how to administer Narcan because students will probably, if they do end up using, won’t be on campus and should know how if they are in that situation,” she said.
She also expressed support for the idea of providing fentanyl test strips, saying that the opioid is becoming “more and more” present in substances.
The Board suggested that the DAC prepare a presentation and additional recommendations on the issue for a future meeting.