Voorheesville to administer opioid-fighting drug in schools

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Naloxone demonstration: In 2014, the Guilderland Police Department was the first in the state to receive reimbursement, for $2,100, for enough naloxone kits for each of its 35 officers. Chief Carol Lawlor, in back, applied to the attorney general’s Community Overdose Prevention Program because there were 12 heroin overdoses in Guilderland that year and five of them were fatal.

VOORHEESVILLE — As heroin and other opiates become more widely used both nationwide and statewide, the Voorheesville school district may soon supply a drug that makes the effects of an opiate overdose disappear.

At its Dec. 12 board meeting, the Voorheesville Board of Education approved a provision to allow the school nurse to administer the drug Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, to students and staff. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist; it prevents death from an opioid overdose.

According to Superintendent Brian Hunt, this is the first time that Voorheesville will maintain and administer Naloxone. The school’s resident physician, which is represented by the Latham-based group Access Health Systems, would be required to issue a non-patient order to the school nurse to administer Naloxone on-site and at her discretion. The nurse will have to undergo training, and the drug must be inventoried weekly to ensure that it — a controlled substance — is not improperly used.

Although New York State started offering naloxone “kits” to schools over a year ago, Hunt says Voorheesville waited sometime to discuss the option.

“It was something that we had discussed with our school nurse as well as our Community Alliance for Healthy Choices,” he said. “We took some time to think about it.”

Dr. Stephen J. Giordano, Director of the Albany County Department of Mental Health, told The Enterprise that New York’s school nurses have been allowed to administer Naloxone only in the last year, much to their chagrin, he said, because it was something anyone with or without a medical background could learn in an hour-long course. In fact, it is offered the first Tuesday of every month at his department, he said.

Giordano lives in the district; has a son who graduated from Voorheesville; and is part of the school’s Community Alliance for Healthy Choices, which was working toward getting Naloxone brought to the district. He believes all schools in the state are likely considering it if not already administering this measure since it was passed.

When other districts first started administering the drug, there was some hesitation due to fears of liability. Hunt says that won’t be a problem as long as the school follows the proper methods of training and documenting this training as well as any administration of the drug.

“If you follow the course procedures, they will protect you,” he said.

 

 
— Albany County Department of Mental Health
Opioid epidemic: A chart shows the rate of opioid-related visits to hospitals in Albany and Rensselaer counties and all of New York State (excluding New York City), showing an increase from 2005 to 2014.

 

— Albany County Department of Mental Health
Rising trend: A chart shows the increase of those receiving treatment for heroin addiction in the Capital Region. From 2007 to 2014, it more than doubled.

 

How it works

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Naloxone can be injected into muscle, under the skin, intravenously, or be administered in a nasal spray. It stops the effects of an overdose by blocking the receptor sites for opioids and reversing the effects of drugs like heroin or prescription pain medication.

“Basically, it blocks the effects of opiates,” said Giordano. “It causes someone to go into withdrawal.”

The withdrawal effects can render a person angry, aggressive, or disoriented, and the opiates’ effects can return as the Naloxone wears off, but administering the opioid antagonist will remove the effects of opiates, if only temporarily.

“That’s why people call it a miracle drug,” said Giordano.

If Naloxone is administered to someone not overdosing on heroin or another opioid, there are no effects, said Giordano.

“It’s innocuous,” he said.

Giordano said that, although a reaction to the drug could occur on a rare occasion, he has not ever witnessed or heard about it during the many times it has been used across the county and the region.

“It’s really a sad state of affairs…” he said, “But it’s used a lot.”

The drug is administered in a standard-sized dosage by either needle or nasal inhalant, said Giordano, and is generally given to adults or young adults. He has never heard of a case of it being administered on a child.

 

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
A dummy and his needles: Kits containing needles to administer Naloxone, which stops the effects of an opiate overdose, were presented to the Guilderland Police Department in 2014.

 

Opiate use widespread

Hunt said he knows of no incidents of a drug overdose in the Voorheesville schools, but added that doesn’t mean drug abuse isn’t present.

“Any school is going to have some level of drug abuse, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s prevalent in New York State.” He added that this means the school must be prepared.

Giordano said he has definitely seen an increased rate of opiate use in the county.

“People are dying in Albany County from heroin overdoses, no doubt about it,” he said. “The public needs education on this kind of thing.”

According to the county mental health department website, the number of people receiving treatment for heroin addiction in the Capital Region went from 4,916 in 2013 to 6,385 in 2014; that’s over twice the number in 2007, which was 2,555. Annually, Albany and Rensselaer counties receive 470 opiate-related emergency room visits and 166 opiate-related hospitalizations.

In an email to The Enterprise, Giordano said that the most significant increase in drug use over the last decade has been of heroin or other opiates. He cited county-treatment admission data that identified 30.7 percent admitted for heroin or other opiate use, and that those admitted for heroin or other opiates has increased three times between 2005 and 2015. In 2015, there were 39 confirmed opiate related deaths in the county.

On a national level, Giordano noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and the majority of overdose deaths involve an opioid, something that has quadrupled since 1999.

In his email, Giordano noted that, while the average heroin user is 23, a local residential adolescent program 42 percent of those admitted reporting opiates as a problem.

“This is a national, and a state, and a community problem,” said Giordano. “This is just as likely to happen in a rural or an urban school.”

Training

In Albany County, training is conducted by Catholic Charities’ Project Safe Point, which is a group approved by the state’s health department. The training is an hour long and includes demonstrations on how to use either the needle or nasal spray, as well as information on the effects of the opioid antagonist.

“You don’t need to be a professional to administer Naloxone,” said Giordano. “It’s almost like CPR.”

He added that, at the end of the training, a kit is given out with the instruction to notify authorities if it is ever used so it can be documented and replaced.

“It’s like a fire extinguisher,” he added.

Voorheesville must first work with the state to administer such training for the school nurse, as well as receive an order from Access Health Systems to obtain and administer Naloxone.

“We’re not quite ready yet,” said Hunt.

Giordano noted that, even without Naloxone provided at the school, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and EMS stations are very close to the district.

“There’s still a good chance to get a first responder there in minutes,” he said.

Still, he argues it’s best to have it available at the school.

“It’s a life-saver,” said Giordano. “If there’s a life-saving tool available, how could you not get it to people?” he asked.

More Regional News

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  •  Schools can stay open in yellow zones but 20 percent of students and staff must be tested each week for COVID-19. Houses of worship are limited to 50 percent capacity, mass gatherings are limited, and no more than four people can dine at a restaurant table whether inside or out.

  • Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen

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