A Narcan spray dose of Naloxone. Courtesy San Luis Obispo County

Beginning next month, the opioid reversal medication Naloxone will be available for free at clinics and community health centers around the county. It should also be made available to parents at San Diego public schools.

Citing a spike in the number of drug-related deaths in San Diego County, Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten signed an order that will allow the general public to possess and administer Naloxone.

Nasal Naloxone, also known under the brand name Narcan, is a prefilled, needle-free device that requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril to save someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

Wooten’s order makes Naloxone inhalers available for free at clinics in an effort to provide easy access to this lifesaving medication, especially for our underserved neighborhoods. This life-saving medication should be distributed to public schools and community colleges, with school nurses authorized to provide it to any parent who requests it.

By the time students are through with high school, more than 50% have abused an illicit or a prescription drug. Therefore, it is critical for parents to have Naloxone readily available in the event of an accidental overdose.

Isolation, stress and anxiety in 2020 have exacerbated an already growing fentanyl crisis. Parents are often the first to find a child experiencing an opioid overdose and should have tools necessary to save a life.  Our elected leaders and government officials must do everything they can to help parents prepare for this type of medical emergency.

No one knows for sure what the long term affects school closures will have on students. There could be a spike in drug use when kids return to full-time, in-person instruction. The good news is the San Diego County Office of Education is already actively working with partners like the Drug Enforcement Administration, public health agencies, and community partners to address the fentanyl crisis, but more could be done.

School shutdowns and distance learning left students isolated from friends while they spent hours each day on their computers. Drug dealers took advantage of the situation and creatively used social media to market and sell drugs.

Parents are the first line of defense against teen prescription drug use, but they are competing with internet-savvy drug dealers who are effectively marketing counterfeit medications and are specifically targeting teens. Parents are in a tough battle and can use all the help they can get.

Counterfeit pills purchased online or through social media pose a serious public health and safety hazard. These pills may contain potentially life-threatening ingredients. Deadly Fentanyl is being found mixed into almost every drug on the street. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine, and about 50 times stronger than heroin.

Some students have started using prescription stimulants such as Adderall, often referred to as “study drugs,” in the belief their academic performance will benefit, though this has not been proven. A significant number of high school and college students purchase Adderall from dark web or through social media referrals, which often supply these drugs laced with fentanyl.

Students may believe that these drugs are relatively safe, so they feel that purchasing them online is also safe. But counterfeit pills spiked with Fentanyl or other illicit drugs are anything but safe. Even one pill can kill.

The local statistics are frightening. San Diego County reported 457 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2020. That is a 202% increase in one year, from 151 recorded deaths in 2019.

When it comes to student safety in this environment, we need to be proactive and provide parents with easy access to life-saving medication. A spray dose of Naloxone is exactly that life-saver.

Mark Powell is the former vice president of the San Diego County Board of Education. He holds a masters degree in educational counseling and is an adjunct professor at National University.

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