Saving a Life: MCPS Expands Student Access to Narcan


Sept. 19, 2023, 1:55 p.m. | By Tejusvi Vijay | 8 months, 1 week ago

As of May 15, Montgomery County Public School students are allowed to carry Narcan on school premises without consequences


“It is not over. And it's not a last year problem…students are still dying across the nation,” Blair principal Renay Johnson says in regard to the ongoing fentanyl and overdose crisis that has affected school communities across the nation.

During the 2022-23 school year alone, 11 Montgomery County students died of an opioid-related overdose. This was a 120% increase from the 2021-22 school year and prompted immediate response from county and school officials. Throughout the year, MCPS officials hosted training sessions, set up family forums, and spread awareness about fentanyl. One new regulation, released on May 15, allows students to carry Narcan, a life-saving drug, with them on school premises.

What is Narcan?

Narcan, a brand name for Naloxone, when administered, can reverse an overdose from opioids such as fentanyl, morphine, and heroin. It is most commonly administered through a single-use nasal spray, but is also available as an injectable. Narcan poses no risk to the patient and is recommended to be given to anyone experiencing overdose symptoms. Some overdose symptoms include unconsciousness, dilated pupils, shallow to no breathing, and blue or purple lips.

Narcan is able to restore breathing in those experiencing overdose in up to two to three minutes by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain.

Since 2018, all Montgomery County schools have had Narcan supplies and at least three identified staff members trained to administer it in emergency settings. Due to the ongoing crisis, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has worked on expanding access to Narcan training to more staff and community members.

2023 Regulation Change

On May 15, MCPS outlined a series of regulations regarding responding to emergencies and overdoses on school property. “Students who carry naloxone on MCPS property and during school-sponsored activities are not subject to disciplinary action solely for carrying naloxone,” the regulation states.

This change took place at a similar time for many nearby counties such as Arlington, Prince George’s, Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Arlington County has a system that requires parents/guardians to annually grant permission for their high school student to carry Narcan in school and verify that their student has been trained to recognize overdose signs and administer Narcan. Both Prince George’s County and Alexandria County allow students to carry Narcan with a doctor’s note. Fairfax County allows students who are 18 or older to carry Narcan if they complete an approved training. As of right now, MCPS has not outlined mandatory training for students.

Montgomery County School System Medical Officer Patricia Kapunan sees this regulation change to have impacts that extend past the classroom. “The concern is that most overdoses are actually happening in residences out in the community where people don't have access to those things. So…having access to a life saving medication has great potential to save lives outside the school,” she says.

While the county has announced this update to be in effect, many administrators have been left in the dark in terms of how this new regulation will be carried out. Johnson expresses worry over students administering Narcan independently and highly encourages students first inform a staff member. “We just don't want to encourage it because it can be very traumatic for a student, especially if they administered a Narcan and their peer does not respond to it. That can be devastating,” she says.

Students across the county do, however, feel that this regulation change is a step in the right direction. Blair junior Yun Yeung believes that this regulation will make an impact throughout the county. “[This regulation] empowers students to actually take a life-saving action, and to potentially save their classmates. I think that this creates a feeling of responsibility and really develops a community,” Yeung says.

 Training Sessions

Throughout the 2022-23 school year, officials at the Montgomery County Health and Human Services (HHS) department have worked to address the ongoing opioid crisis. Kapunan has helped lead efforts across the county regarding training programs and forums for staff members, families, and students. Over the past year, MCPS held four county-wide family forums that reached over 2,300 community members.

“The forums were powerful, not because we were able to give a lot of support, but we learned about what the public, the community wanted,” Kapunan says. More students began to voice their concerns at these forums and express interest in receiving Narcan training.

At Blair, administrators worked closely with the HHS to set up assemblies and Narcan training sessions for staff members. Johnson estimates that about 200 Blair staff members have received training so far.

Training programs for students, however, have only been available through the HHS or independent organizations as of now. While much is left unclear about school-wide training sessions, Johnson hopes to have training sessions at Blair for students by the start of the 2023-24 school year. 

Accessibility

In addition to training sessions, the HHS has been working on ways to ensure that Narcan is accessible in times of emergency. The HSS and local fire departments have been distributing free Narcan for community residents. In addition to these county-provided distribution efforts, the Food and Drug Administration has approved Narcan to be sold over-the-counter at pharmacies as of March 2023. 

Student Member of the Board of Education Sami Saeed hopes that this distribution process can expand similarly to how COVID-19 Rapid Test Kits were provided to students, but with parental permission beforehand. “When I…think of Narcan distribution, I think of an emergency action that we need right now,” he says.

Beyond Narcan

While Narcan can save and has saved lives, it doesn’t serve as an end to the fentanyl and overdose crisis. “Narcan is reactionary...It's not preventative. Narcan is not going to stop people from using drugs,” Saeed says.

Beyond Narcan, Montgomery County and Blair are working to increase communication and awareness regarding opioids and overdoses. Kapunan and her department have worked on updating the health class curriculum to include more information about illicit drugs. “We had made changes to the curriculum even before the school year started … in terms of having more dedicated information about illicit fentanyl, specifically, knowing more about opioid use as a medication and the possible dangers of that and overdose,” Kapunan says.

Blair administration hopes to involve more students with initiatives surrounding awareness and education on opioids. “I’d like to empower our student government association because students learn from students,” Johnson says.

Regardless of the program or initiative, every action taken to address the ongoing crisis is one step forward. And while there may be no singular initiative that can solve every aspect of the crisis, every step counts towards saving a life.

Last updated: Sept. 25, 2023, 10:58 a.m.


Tags: Narcan

Tejusvi Vijay. Hello! My name is Teju (she/her) and I'm a staff writer. Outside of SCO, I enjoy playing board games, watching Disney movies, and telling puns. More »

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