As people continue to die from drug overdoses at record rates, Camden County schools will increase emergency supplies of naloxone, the opioid reversal medication.
The county, in collaboration with local authorities, will install 250 “naloxboxes” at 150 public and private schools in South Jersey.
Officials say they want naloxone access to be as commonplace as automatic emergency defibrillators (AEDs), which are often available in public venues and used to revive people in sudden cardiac arrest.
“We, as an educational institution, want to make sure that we are prepared and able to demonstrate our utmost care for those battling addiction and for those unsuspecting people who are exposed to fentanyl,” said Dr. Brian Repici, superintendent of the Black Horse Pike Regional School District.
More than 3,000 people in New Jersey – including 335 in Camden County – died from a drug overdose in 2021, according to state data. For several years, fentanyl has been present in the majority of confirmed deaths.
Law enforcement officials say the synthetic opioid, which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, is not just mixed with heroin. Fentanyl is increasingly found in cocaine, ecstasy, counterfeit pills, and other substances that teens and young adults may be more likely to try or use.
Children 17 and younger have historically accounted for a small percentage of the state’s overdose deaths, but when it happens, Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay said it’s tragic.
A 12-year-old Gloucester Township boy died earlier this year from a fentanyl overdose. He was found unresponsive on a school bus and was rushed to a hospital, where he died one week later.
The new emergency kits are metal boxes that will be mounted onto school walls in areas with high foot traffic, with each containing several doses of naloxone. The $30,000 project is funded by the county Office of Mental Health and Addiction.
The naloxone is provided at no-cost through a partnership with the state Department of Public Health, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, and local police departments.
County officials will provide additional training to teachers, athletic coaches, and other school faculty on how to use the medication.
When asked during a media event Thursday at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood if the training would also be open to students, Camden County commissioner director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said, “I don’t see why we wouldn’t train students.”
He clarified that it will be up to each individual school district to decide if students will be allowed to take the training.
Gloria Simmons, a senior at Highland Regional High School, thinks the interest is there.
“There’s actually a CPR class [here], and a lot of people enrolled into that class, so I feel like a lot of people would be interested in doing this,” she said.
Classmate Jordai Kimbrough, also a senior at the high school, agreed.
“I think that most kids really like the idea of saving lives and helping people,” Kimbrough said. “I think this is a good step in doing that.”
County officials aim to install all the emergency boxes by the end of the month.