Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows schools will decide on Narcan

Principals will determine risk, if they want life-saving antidote, says health officer

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board trustee Susan Carr continues to push for Narcan kits in B.C. high schools, and says it is just a matter of time before a young person overdoses at school.

So far, the only word out of senior government has been from provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. In a letter to school board superintendents dated Oct. 21, he advised boards that “we are not designating schools a high-risk environment.”

The local board asked the province to purchase Narcan kits for every high school and middle school in the province and provide training for staff members in how to administer the opioid antidote with the ingredient naloxone.

The board sent its proposal to senior government on Oct. 25, but given that Carr had received media attention for her proposal in the weeks leading up to that, she takes Kendall’s letter as a response.

“I would like to reassure educators that youth aged 10-18 comprise a very small subset of fatal overdoses,” said Kendall.

“This is not to say that youth of school age are not affected or not at risk, as there have been eight illicit drug overdose deaths in youth between the ages of 15-18 so far in 2016.”

He noted there have been no deaths of young under 15, and no deaths in a school.

“If a school administrator knows that a school has a high-risk population or is aware of students using drugs on or near school grounds, in addition to the referral and support protocols that the school may have, I recommend obtaining a naloxone kit for the school and ensuring a person is available who is comfortable administering it,” he said.

“Kits can be purchased behind the counter in many pharmacies for about $50 and pharmacists can provide training.

Fentanyl is currently killing record numbers of drug users in B.C.

Kendall said the focus is for youth aged 10-18 is on prevention through better decision making, increasing awareness of naloxone and safer drug practices “because we do know that this age group is experimenting.”

Carr does not believe this approach will result in many Narcan kits in high schools, and says it is just a matter of time before a young person overdoses at school.

“I don’t think it goes far enough. All school districts should have a policy around this, and every school should have two kits,” she said. “You have to mandate it.”

So far, five U.S. states have agreed to provide naloxone in schools as a response to high numbers of overdoses, many blamed on the opioid fentanyl. The National Association of School Nurses in the U.S. recommends having naloxone in schools.

The NDP’s critic for mental health and addictions agrees with the board from SD42. Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell was a teacher before entering politics, and said she would want a narcan kit at her school.

“The school board’s call for it (Narcan) is thoughtful and it’s timely.”

She said the government has to do what it can to stop the epidemic of overdose deaths, which stood at 622 for the first 10 months of 2016.

“That’s a tragedy. That’s like two big airplanes going down at the airport,” she said.

“I don’t believe people deserve to die because they’ve taken a drug and it’s laced with something, or it’s not laced with something.

She said the effectiveness of Narcan against opioids makes it critical to distribute

“If you have a child who is going down, you want that at your fingertips. It’s like a miracle drug,” she said.

“This is not a time to get hung up on values, it’s about saving lives.”

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton was also a teacher before being elected to the legislature. He said youth need to be made aware that experimenting with drugs could be fatal.

“It’s much less safe – not that it ever was safe – but the potential consequences now are very serious,” he said.

Dalton said the government is doing putting its energy and resources where they can do the most good during the overdose epidemic.

“It is very serious, and we’ve declared it to be a provincial health crisis,” he said. “All avenues and approaches need to be looked at.

He said the government has in no way taken the idea of Narcan in schools off the table.

“It’s certainly being looked at as part of an overall strategy.”

He knows Carr asked to meet with Christy Clark about the issue, and he defended the premier not granting that request, saying she is busy on numerous files.