January 8, 2019The Journal Record |
OKLAHOMA CITY – As Oklahoma continues its fight against the opioid epidemic, one lawmaker wants to improve access to overdose antagonists in schools.
Several officials within the state, including those at the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, have been working to familiarize the state with naloxone. The medication and its generic forms can be administered to a patient undergoing an opioid overdose to suspend the reaction. The treatment lasts from 30 to 90 minutes, allowing the person to stabilize long enough to be delivered into medical care. That familiarity and access expansion has become easier since a generic version of the drug became available in the form of a nasal spray. Narcan looks similar to a canister of Flonase and is administered the same way.
State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, introduced legislation that would bring that access to public schools, charter schools and technology centers. Senate Bill 85 would allow nurses or other officials that school districts designate to administer Narcan to students. They could do so after undergoing training available through the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
He said the Department of Education approached him about the bill because current law is vague when it comes to who in schools has authority to administer the treatment.
“The last thing we want is for there to be a lack of clarity,” he said. “If a teacher wants to save a student’s life, I want them to be able to.”
Across the country, an average 46 people died daily from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oklahoma’s accidental poisoning deaths surpassed 700 in 2016, and the top contributor was prescription overdoses, which killed more than 400 people, according to the State Department of Health.
The Department of Health has been training Oklahomans on using naloxone and Narcan for several years, said Avy Redus, the department’s project coordinator of injury prevention service.
“Our primary focus has been training emergency medical personnel,” she said.
Before 2013, state law allowed only paramedics, which are high-level technicians, to use the drug on overdose patients. That year, the Legislature made it legal for lower-level ambulance technicians as well as other first responders to use it. After the law changed, the department began working with those technicians as well as volunteer firefighters. That training is necessary because responders have to do more than give patients the spray. Overdose symptoms often include strained breathing or choking as well as vomiting.
“It’s also about doing chest compressions and airway management,” Redus said.
In addition to in-person sessions, the department offers online trainings, overdose data and statistics and several other resources at poison.health.ok.gov. In addition to expanding access to emergency responders, the department has worked to make it more accessible to residents outside of the medical field. The department’s website contains information about where to find the medication statewide.