For more than a year and a half, Kentucky district leaders have been facing a decision unrelated to effective classroom instruction, efficient resource management, bandwidths, bonds, buses or buildings.
When the 2015 General Assembly passed Senate Bill 192 – the so-called “heroin bill” – the 41-page law included the following language:
“A person or agency, including a peace officer, jailer, firefighter, paramedic, or emergency medical technician or a school employee authorized to administer medication under KRS 156.502, may: (a) receive a prescription for the drug naloxone; (b) possess naloxone pursuant to this subsection and any equipment needed for its administration; and (c) administer naloxone to an individual suffering from an apparent opiate-related overdose.”
As SB 192 is permissive legislation, the state’s 173 local boards of education have a choice: authorize schools to stock and employees to use the emergency overdose nasal sprays or say “No thanks” to the offer of two free doses of the medication for their high schools, and the related potential headaches.
So far, it’s apparently been a very quiet consideration. But the pressure is starting to mount.
Endorsements and apprehensions
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin-related deaths in the country have tripled since 2010, with more than 10,500 deaths recorded in 2014. Of that number, 233 were recorded in Kentucky, which the CDC identified as one of the five states with the largest number of overdose deaths.
In August, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt weighed in on the subject.
“Although we hope no student, staff or family member ever falls victim to drug abuse, we cannot ignore the potential that an overdose could occur at school,” Pruitt said in a news release. “This is an opportunity for schools to be prepared for that possibility and save a life.”
Subsequently, the Kentucky Department of Education hosted administrators and school nurses for a half-day training seminar on potential benefits of districts availing themselves of the naloxone option. Speakers demonstrated correct use of the nasal spray (brand name: Narcan), detailing possible scenarios facing schools, such as a fan at a game or a visitor in a building. One implored district representatives to take the offered medications and not be “paranoid.”
But whether it’s paranoia or justified anxiety, this section of the new law – “A person acting in good faith who administers naloxone received under this section shall be immune from criminal and civil liability for the administration, unless personal injury results from the gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct of the person administering the drug.” – hasn’t alleviated the concerns of some district leaders.
A series of interviews with Kentucky superintendents this fall has found a few are definitely in favor of stocking the medications and a few are adamantly opposed. But a significant majority fall in a category of “not sure, no decision, not an issue or haven’t talked about it.”
Whichever way they go, district leaders would be well advised to be prepared to explain their ultimate resolution.
First, this is the kind of topic that turns the half dozen mainstream media stories to date into dozens of localized reports across the state.
And advocates like Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, aren’t going to stop talking about it. Here’s what Ingram told participants at the KDE training event:
“This is not going away; you can’t wish it away. Your schools have students, staff, visitors, parents, grandparents. It’d be hard to live with ourselves if we had this free product available to us and we could just give it and we could have saved a life but it just wasn’t worth the hassle. I don’t want to be there and I don’t think you want to, either,” Ingram said.
The Last Word
There are times when local school leaders need to be ready to justify a decision. When taxes are raised. When a school is closed. When a principal or superintendent is hired. When any noteworthy or controversial action is taken.
Depending on local circumstances, the naloxone decision very likely can be added to that list.
And that makes it a message worth getting out.