The war against heroin has enlisted new recruits. Three Bucks County school districts added naloxone (also known by the band-name Narcan) to their high school emergency response plans in September.
Quakertown, Palisades, and Council Rock school districts have stocked naloxone “just in case.” Under a 2014 law signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, first responders and family members of at-risk drug users are permitted to obtain and administer it.
Robert Lee is Quakertown’s school police resource officer and the only one trained to use the antidote. Previous police work has given him experience recognizing signs of an overdose.
“Unfortunately, like other suburban communities, Quakertown, our area, has been struggling with the war on heroin,” Lee said. “Drugs affecting many young adults or late teens … our community has experienced overdoses with heroin. [Heroin] is the drug of choice right now.”
Lee’s Narcan trainer is square shaped and resembles an EpiPen, the device used to stop severe allergic reactions. Quakertown obtained the lifesaving drug through a grant with St. Luke’s Hospital. The school has partnered with anti-drug organizations to offer a support group for drug users fighting their addictions.
The Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission says the number of people younger than 26 seeking drug treatment is growing significantly. Among this age group, heroin is the drug of choice for the fourth year in a row.
Even so, most students are not aware of Narcan or that it’s available in the school. Quakertown senior Nic Rubolino only just heard about it, but supports stocking the antidote on campus.
“My first impression of having it in our school is that it’s a good move to make sure we have the right kind of equipment,” he said. “Just in case something like an overdose would happen on school grounds because, like Officer Lee said, it’s a growing issue. It could easily spill onto school property and if we have that issue it’s always good to have [Narcan].”
Lee has also received negative feedback. Some community members believe overdoses act as a warning and that Narcan will only enable users to stay addicted.
Diane Rosati, the executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said the enabling concern is a “myth.” She says opiate addictions, both heroin and prescription pills, are an epidemic.
“After folks are saved through naloxone, it’s extremely important to offer treatment opportunities to those folks. Anybody who experiences an overdose is certainly at a high risk for another potentially fatal overdose,” Rosati said. “So we want to be able to offer services to that person and support to them as well. We’ll be working on how we can reach out to those folks to stop the cycle.”
None of the three high schools has used Narcan yet, but the antidote is credited for saving 40 lives in Bucks County since March.