East Greenwich High School nurse Peggy Bonk wants to have Narcan available at the high school in case of an opioid overdose. But it’s up to the School Committee to see if that becomes official policy.
Narcan is the trade name for naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of opioids such as heroin but also oxycodone and vicodin, the sorts of drugs that can be found in home medicine cabinets.
“I think it’s a great thing to have, even if we never use it,” said Bonk.
Bonk took part in a recent training offered to school nurses by the Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps.
“They highly recommended it,” she said, noting that under current state regulations, the school is covered under the Good Samaritan provision that says you can administer life-saving drugs like narcan or epinephrine (an EpiPen, used in the case of a deadly allergic reaction) without a prescription.
“It would be the same as having an EpiPen on hand,” she said.
Her request comes at the same time a bill has been introduced in the General Assembly by Rep. David Bennett (D-Dist. 20) that would require public schools with students in grades 6 through 12 to be equipped with Narcan kits.
“We are keeping an eye on the bill regarding Narcan availability and use in schools,” said EGSD Superintendent Victor Mercurio last week. “Obviously, we always want to make sure that we have as many tools available to support student safety.”
But Mercurio said it would need to be discussed “at the district level, at the School Committee level, and/or at the Health and Wellness Committee level.”
EGHS does not have a “rampant” drug problem, said Bonk, but said there was one instance where she might have used Narcan if she’d had it. In that incident, a student had overdosed on an unknown drug but EGFD rescue arrived quickly and the student recovered.
Narcan comes in two forms, as a nasal spray and as an injection. Bonk said the spray form would be preferable but it might depend on cost.
“I think it’s great that we have another tool in the kit, so to speak,” said Bob Houghtaling, director of the EG Drug Program. “The last 10 to 12 years, with the rise of opioid use nationally and even locally, to be able to have this as a life-saving measure is terrific.”
Opioid overdoses have become more common, said Houghtaling, and people are getting addicted to prescription drugs, then transferring over to heroin when they are cut off from renewed prescriptions.
“You could be totally non-drug using and be prescribed a painkiller and a year later end up with a heroin addiction,” he said.
Houghtaling rejected the idea that broader availability of Narcan was essentially giving drug users permission to overdose.
“I think that when there’s life, there’s hope. I run the risk of being made a fool of saving somebody’s life, so they can try again tomorrow,” he said.
Cole Middle School nurse Jean Marie Vaughn said she, too, was interested in carrying Narcan.
“I don’t anticipate needing it,” said Vaughn. “There’s never been an incident where I’ve wanted to use it”.
But, she noted, “it could be something as simple as taking too many of Mom or Dad’s oxycodone that was sitting in the medicine cabinet.”
Vaughn echoed Bonk and Houghtaling’s sentiments: “It would be better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
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