Drug overdose has become a leading cause of accidental death in the United States. As the opioid epidemic devastates communities across the country, adolescents are being increasingly exposed to opioids. This upsetting trend has not shown signs of slowing, as teen and young adult overdose death rates have steadily increased since 1999.
A 2014 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) survey reported that almost half a million teens and 1.2 million young adults abused opioids and heroin during that year. In addition, a 2015 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study on drug abuse revealed that opioid abuse is the #1 cause of overdose death for 15-24 year olds and heroin abuse is the #4 cause of overdose death for the same age group after prescription and illicit drug abuse. This study also showed that teens and young adults are more than 4 times more likely to overdose on opioids today than they were 18 years ago.
Due to these data and several incidents of drug overdose deaths in schools around the country, some school districts have begun to require school nurse facilities to be stocked with naloxone. Naloxone is an antidote that can treat narcotic overdose in emergency situations by quickly blocking opioid receptors. Many school officials, school nurses, and local politicians believe that supplying schools with the life-saving drug will give students another chance.
There has been opposition to the use of naloxone because of its cost and for fear that it will encourage more drug use; however, organizations such as the President’s Opioid Commission and The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) support making naloxone more available. NASN recognizes the responsibility school nurses have for protecting students and therefore determined that naloxone should be included in schools’ emergency preparedness response plans. NASN released a position statement emphasizing that “harm reduction approaches to [opioid pain reliever] overdose include expanding access to naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, which can prevent overdose deaths by reversing life-threatening respiratory depression.” NASN’s rationale is based on the SAMHSA five strategic approaches to prevent overdose death:
- Call for help
- Check for signs of opioid overdose
- Support the person’s breathing
- Administer naloxone
- Monitor the person’s response
The NASN position statement concludes by stating the importance of preventing adolescents from ever abusing opioids.
National Health Promotion Associates, the creators of Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST) (an evidence-based prevention program used in schools and communities around the world) has created a Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Module for the LST Middle School program. A study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showed that the LST Middle School program delivered in 7th grade classrooms helped students avoid abusing prescriptions, opioids, and other drugs throughout their teen years. This new module can be used as a standalone module or as part of the LST Middle School program.
Contributing Writer: Alexandrea Adams is a senior at Dartmouth College studying Biology and Public Policy. She is currently interning at National Health Promotion Associates.