The School Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 8 voted to support the placement of Narcan at the high school and the training of nurses and school administrators in its use.
Placement at other schools in the district would be at the discretion of the district’s administrative leadership team.
Whitman and Hanson police chiefs Scott Benton and Michael Miksch and Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Grenno provided information about the opioid arrestor and how it would be used.
“It’s not that we have concerns about the students using heroin or carfentanyl or anything, our main concern is the student bringing it from home or from a neighbor’s house or dragging their backpack across something,” Grenno said. “Our main focus is to train the administrators and nurses on the use of Narcan — or your staff.”
“This has become a problem that goes beyond the initial users,” Miksch said. “There’s been accidental exposures.”
Police officers in Pembroke and Falmouth have been exposed to carfentanyl that way and officers in a North Shore community had it thrown at them while executing a search warrant.
“This can become airborne,” he said. “If we’re being exposed to it at the level we are, it’s going to be walking in your doors.”
Miksch said he keeps two doses in his cruiser at all times and each Hanson Police officer is issued a dose for themselves. The nasal spray applicator works like nasal allergy medications such as Flonase.
The only risk associated with Narcan is that it induces vomiting if it is administered too fast, according to Grenno.
“You can’t overdose on Narcan,” Grenno said. “It reverses the effect of an overdose.” He stressed there is no liability involved because anyone administering it is protected by the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Act.
Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak said the Narcan would be kept in the nurse’s office — the trainer’s room and possibly other locations in the school — because the AED boxes are not alarmed.
School Committee member Fred Small reported hearing of an incident where a 6-month-old puppy was exposed in a park and was saved only by receiving timely veterinary attention.
“If it can happen to a 6-month-old Lab it can happen to anybody,” he said. “I’d like to see [Narcan] in every corner of the building and on every floor just as a safety precaution.”
School committee members noted that teacher training would have to be negotiated. Athletic Trainer Lexi Watkins is already certified and Szymaniak said nurses and administrators should be trained on use of Narcan.
Miksch said the cost is relatively minimal at $40 per dose, and that minutes count, much as with heart attacks.
“I think people start getting — for lack of a better term — up tight about Narcan because of what causes it, yet we wouldn’t have this debate if it was an AED,” Miksch said. “You need to look at it this way. The more you have around, the better.”
He advocated training and supplying it to nurses, administrators and phys ed teachers, if no one else, and keeping it in as many schools as necessary.
Gabby Peruccio, a coordinator with the Brockton Area Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative and Ed Jacobs of District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz’s office also provided a report on results of a recent student survey on drug use and attitudes. The School Committee voted unanimously to extend the survey for another year for grades 8, 9, 11 and 12.
The survey sample size averaged about 245 students per grade level. The data is used on the local level by the collaborative to develop educational and social media campaigns.
Szymaniak said fliers based on the data will be posted in the school to discourage drug, alcohol and alternative cigarette use, but that he wanted the committee to see the data first.
“Then we’ll look at the trends to see how we’ll infuse it in our programs,” Szymaniak said.
Jacobs said the survey is funded by a grant from the federal Drug-Free Communities program. The five-year grant is in its fourth year and the collaborative is hoping to be renewed for another five years.
“The drugs we focused on in our application were the opioids and misuse of prescription drugs,” he said. “This is under 18.”
Peruccio reported that eighth-graders, approved for participation last year, reported fewer than 5 percent of students reported alcohol or marijuana use in the month preceding the survey but the use of alternative cigarettes — such as e-cigs — was a bit higher at 7 percent. Only 1 percent had tried prescription drugs.
Students had a high perception of risk for both the potential harm of alcohol (98 percent), prescription drugs (96 percent) and marijuana and alternative cigarettes (91 percent) among the eighth-graders surveyed. They felt parents and peers agreed about the harm of the substances, but only 85 percent felt their peers viewed e-cigs as potentially harmful.
Trends from high school students surveyed showed a “drastic increase” of 5 percent in the use of alternative cigarettes among freshmen. Juniors, however, reported a 9-percent decrease in alcohol use and a 13-percent decrease in recent marijuana use at the time of last year’s survey. Seniors showed an increase in the recent use of all substances except for prescription drugs — with alcohol up by 6 percent, marijuana by 9 percent and alternative cigarettes up by 35 percent. Prescription drug use decreased by 6 percent.
School Committee member Kevin Lynam asked if the perception of risk anticipates future behavior. Peruccio said in some respects it does, at least for first-time use.
“As you get older, there are many different factors that would also have an effect on use,” she said. “But the perception of risk would definitely be a huge factor in their use.”
She argued that is almost certainly the case with prescription drug use because of education programs.
“We don’t have enough information about alternative cigarettes, we don’t have enough information about how harmful they are,” Peruccio. “We can tell a student that they are harmful — they do have tobacco in them and they have many different side effects — but to them, they may see it as less harmful and they may want to use it more.”