Illinois May Soon Put Overdose Antidote in Hands of School Nurses

Illinois lawmakers are working on a bill that would let school nurses give students overdosing on opioid prescriptions or heroin the drug that could save their lives. Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is known as the overdose antidote because it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and prevent fatalities. This drug is most often used in emergency rooms and by first responders.

What Is the Overdose Antidote?

Naloxone comes in a pre-filled auto injector that can be used to reverse opioid overdoses. Opioids include prescription narcotic painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, but also heroin. These drugs slow down respiration and heart rate, and when taken in large doses, can be fatal.

When and Where Is Naloxone Used?

The overdose antidote is most often used in emergency rooms when someone is admitted for an overdose. However, as the abuse of prescription narcotics and heroin has increased over the last decade, the use of naloxone has spread as well. Around the country, more and more first responders and law enforcement officers are being supplied with naloxone and trained in its use. Typically, getting the overdose victim to the hospital takes too long. When officers and EMTs have access to naloxone, they are able to save more lives.

In some states, the epidemic of prescription and heroin overdoses has even led to naloxone being distributed to civilians. For example, in Vermont a pilot program has given out emergency kits containing naloxone to family members of people at risk of overdosing.

Naloxone in Schools

Young people and teens are particularly vulnerable to the risk of overdose both from prescription narcotics and heroin. Many locations around the country have seen epidemic increases in heroin and prescription abuse and overdoses in teenagers. In Illinois, lawmakers want to reduce the number of teen overdoses by allowing school nurses access to naloxone. In DuPage County, the overdose antidote saved 44 lives in 2014, including two teenagers who overdosed in school and were saved by responding firefighters armed with naloxone.

Two different bills have been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. One has already received preliminary approval and would allow school nurses to use naloxone. The other bill is more specific and would allow school nurses to use the brand name drug, Narcan, to save students from overdoses and has also been preliminarily approved by the appropriate committee. Both bills are now up for debate.

Currently, under Illinois law, school nurses are allowed to administer only drugs that have been prescribed to a student. If a student is overdosing and the nurse has naloxone, according to the law, she is not allowed to use it. The nurse must call emergency responders, who may not arrive in time to save the child’s life.

For the most part, support is strong for increasing access to naloxone. However, the drug and its use are not without controversy. Some people see it as supporting addicts and drug abusers. They say that it gives drug abusers an excuse to be careless and to risk overdosing, knowing that they can be saved. Most people, though, see naloxone as a lifesaver and as a way to give young people a second chance.

There is still hope.

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