Montgomery County Superintendent Monifa McKnight has signed off on a new regulation that allows students to carry “personally obtained” naloxone on school property.
The move comes after a rise in the number of overdoses in the county. The regulation was signed about two weeks ago, on May 1.
Benjamin Kaufman, with the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, said, “We’re responding to about 60 opiate overdoses a month, that’s across all ages and all locations, not specific to schools.”
So far this school year, there have been 15 incidents in which Narcan was administered in MCPS.
Mark Hodge, Senior Administrator for School Health Services with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services said that in the “vast majority” of those in-school incidents, the naloxone was administered by school nurses.
At a news conference on the new policy at Seneca Valley High School Monday morning, Dr. Patricia Kapunan, the medical officer for the Montgomery County School system said the message to students is simple, “If they are carrying Narcan in school, we want to let them know that they’re not going to get in trouble for that.”
While school officials want students to know that they won’t be in violation of any school policies by carrying naloxone with them on school grounds, the language of the guidance states that students are “strongly encouraged to seek the assistance of DHHS or MCPS personnel, and/or contact 911” in the event of a suspected overdose. Hodge explained, “Because it’s not enough just to give Narcan, you may have to provide breathing assistance and wait for EMS to arrive,” he said.
That message was echoed by Ben Stevenson, a manager of the Prevention and Harm Reduction program at DHHS who said along with emphasizing the dangers of drug use, “Helping a friend is very important, and we try to push that message” as well.
Seneca Valley High School Principal Marc Cohen told reporters Monday, “For me right now what’s most important is how we can help our students, our young people to understand why this is such dangerous behavior, why this is such potentially such deadly behavior.”
He also demonstrated how to use a Narcan cartridge, saying, “It’s just one spray and you just saved a life, it’s just that simple.”
Cheryl Requa, a school nurse at Seneca Valley, was asked about her experiences talking to students about the threat that opioids, specifically fentanyl, pose.
“As long as you’re providing an open and safe space, they really are open to sharing just about anything,” she said.
Captain Jordan Satinsky runs the Community Engagement Officer program with the Montgomery County Police and said students have told police that they are aware that fentanyl is likely in many of the drugs they seek out. “It’s not a surprise to them. They want to try it and see what happens. They just don’t understand that it’s almost like Russian roulette.”
Satinsky said he knows that some people worry that the widespread availability of naloxone “perpetuates” the use of fentanyl. He says it’s quite the opposite-that naloxone is simply a response to the lethal opioids available to students. “We’re not using this for anything more to make sure that our kids stay safe and alive,” he said.