Officials weighing Narcan availability in their schools

Venango County school superintendents are considering whether to make the opioid reversal drug naloxone available in local schools.

Naloxone is used to reverse overdose from opioid drugs such as heroin and prescription painkillers. It is also known by the brand name Narcan.

The superintendents were on hand Friday at a panel presentation sponsored by the county’s drug overdose task force. All four school districts were represented.

“I’m glad we were there,” said Pat Gavin, the Oil City superintendent. “I thought some of the information that was presented was very good.”

Task force members invited superintendents to the presentation, which was geared mainly toward law enforcement.

“It was good information that you don’t want to hear. It was real information,” Valley Grove superintendent Jeff Clark said. “I appreciated being invited to it,” Clark added.

The county’s drug task force is in favor of local schools stocking naloxone.

“We want to make sure it’s available wherever it’s needed,” task force member Bonnie Summers said. “The school’s are very receptive to it,” Summers added.

A 2013 Pennsylvania Youth Survey indicated that more than 11 percent of students had tried some sort of narcotic prescription drug. These opiate drugs are the sort that naloxone would reverse in case of an overdose.

“I know kids are exposed to it,” Clark said.

Ambulance technicians and other first responders have long carried the drug. Pennsylvania State Police are now using it and have prevented hundreds of potential overdoses. Some local law enforcement departments are following suit as well.

“Opioid overdose is the leading public health problem in Pennsylvania and tragically many of the victims are young people,” said Pennsylvania health secretary Karen Murphy in a press release.

“Providing access to naloxone to schools may prevent an unnecessary loss of life,” Murphy said.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has been aggressive in addressing the state’s opioid crisis.

Late last year the state sent a letter to superintendents of all 500 school districts emphasizing the schools’ legal ability to store and administer naloxone in accordance with Act 139, which was passed into law in 2014.

“It’s out there. They’re encouraging us to have it,” Clark said.

Schools already address drug use in a variety of ways. Valley Grove has the Student Assistance Program in place at the high school level, for example.

Cranberry Area School District takes part in the drug prevention Red Ribbon Campaign.

A school nurse is taking the lead in researching naloxone for the Cranberry district, superintendent Bill Vonada said. Cranberry is waiting for policy recommendations from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association before the board considers the use of naloxone in its schools, he said.

“It’s something we’ll seriously consider doing,” Vonada said. “It’s an amazing tool.”

Clark said Valley Grove is in the information-gathering stage regarding use of naloxone. More study is necessary before the district approves its use, he said.

Gavin cited a need for the consideration of issues such as liability and training.

“We haven’t had a need for that. Not that we won’t,” Gavin said.

Friday’s session was informative, the superintendents said.

“It’s something we need to get our minds around how serious the matter is,” Gavin said.

“There’s an interest in becoming more knowledgeable so we’re better able to do our jobs here,” Clark said.

The Departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs have online training available for individuals who will administer naloxone at schools, the state said in its press release.

Franklin superintendent Pam Dye was out of the office Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment.