Opioids, students and school nurses

Keeping Narcan in schools is necessary to help stem the tide of overdose deaths

I recently read Elizabeth A. Harris’s article in the New York Times, “In School Nurse’s Room: Tylenol, Bandages and an Antidote to Heroin,” about the opioid crisis and our educational system’s attempt to deal with it.

I’ve taught a number of students who’ve struggled with addiction, and I’ve worked with them, their families and other team members in search of successful recovery. What has been new and heartbreaking for me over the past few years are the number of funerals I’ve attended for former students who’ve been unable to break free of addiction.

It’s hard for me to describe the devastation I’ve witnessed at these funerals.

There are the babies sitting on grandparents’ laps crying for their mothers or fathers who are no longer there to hug them, play with them, or watch them grow up.

There are the parents who tried for years to get help for their children in all ways they knew how, and who watched their children become shadows of themselves.

There are the friends who sit shocked and crying, some gaunt now in body and soul as they struggle with their own addictions, hugging each other in hopes of hanging on.

There are the neighbors who bring casseroles and stories of long-ago laughing and playful little boys or girls who climbed trees in their yards and loved to eat cookies.

And there are the teachers like me who mourn the lost talents and promise of these young people, and struggle to forgive ourselves as we wonder what more we could’ve done.

Harris’s article speaks to the growing number of school districts that retain supplies of naloxone (Narcan or Evzio) in their schools due to this burgeoning opioid crisis.

Some think schools shouldn’t keep the antidote to an opioid overdose in the nurse’s office. And there are nurses who feel burdened with this responsibility, added to many other significant responsibilities they deal with on a daily basis. School nurses already deal with the daily challenge of supporting students with mental health issues or suicidal ideation and students who struggle with self-harming behaviors, bullying, abuse, or serious medical issues.

In early 2016, the Executive Council approved accepting a large donation of Narcan kits by Adapt Pharma. Since then several school districts have made Narcan available in middle and high schools throughout New Hampshire. The decision to provide this in schools must have been a staggering task for these school officials.

I don’t know what the answer is to this devastating crisis. But I do know this: I do not wish the experience of heartbreaking grief over a young person’s death due to drug addiction on anyone. I do not want to have to walk into another funeral filled with the suffering of those left behind who wonder – how can we stop this?

If providing this antidote to schools can save one of our student’s lives, I believe it’s what we must do.

Elizabeth Feingold retired from Kearsarge Regional School District, where she worked for over 30 years as a special education teacher and coordinator at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She is now a consultant and advocate. Reach her through www.seacservices.com or email seacsvcs@gmail.com.

More Learning Curve columns by Liz Feingold

60 days and counting

What to expect during your child’s evaluation period

Know before you go

What to expect at a disposition-of referral or evaluation meeting

Remembering my father, my teacher

Reflecting on the lessons he taught me everyday through his actions

Managing anxiety

Students can succeed with a treatment plan and support

The job of the advocate

To best serve the special education student, it takes time
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