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Sunday, May 19, 2024

School nurses, jail officers can now carry naloxone. Are local jails and schools going to keep more on hand?

York-County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now equipped with Naloxone, a potentially life-saving drug that is administered after a drug overdose. (WYDaily/File photo)
School nurses and regional jail employees in Virginia are now able to carry and administer naloxone. (WYDaily/File photo)

Starting in July, some facilities across Virginia will have greater access to a life-saving drug to combat opioid overdoses: Naloxone.

In late February and early March, Gov. Ralph Northam signed two separate bills that will allow school nurses and regional jail employees to carry naloxone — also known as Narcan — while on the job.

Under the bills, employees of both schools and jails join the ranks of those who can already legally administer naloxone, all of whom must have training.

On average, three Virginians die of a drug overdose and more than two dozen are treated in emergency departments for drug overdose every day, according to the Virginia State Health Commissioner.

So, who in the Historic Triangle is taking advantage of this new law?

Schools in Greater Williamsburg and York County are not yet jumping on board to equip their nurses with naloxone.

On the other hand, the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail will be taking full advantage of the expanded law, the Tony Pham, the jail superintendent, said.

“It gives us another tool in the toolkit to better address the issues of potential opiate overdose that come through our front door,” Pham said.

Schools

In Williamsburg-James City County schools, the school board has not yet made a decision on whether or not naloxone will be used, said Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC Schools.

The district is still awaiting further guidance from the Virginia Department of Education on administrative practices and training.

Cox said that there has not been a recorded case of an overdose in the 2017-2018 school year nor this school year.

Some York County schools already have naloxone on-hand.

Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for York County Public Schools, said the six school resource officers at the schools from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office have naloxone available. There is one SRO at each high school and two that cover the four middle schools in the district.

The district will not be equipping school nurses with naloxone, Goff said.

Goff did not immediately respond to questions about the number of reported overdoses in York County Public Schools.

While children might not be the first subject that comes to mind when thinking of the opioid epidemic, a 2017 study from the Virginia State Child Fatality Review Team found there were 41 infant, young children and adolescent deaths related to overdoses during a five-year span.

The main causes of those deaths were intentional suicide or accidental overdose for teenagers. Of those overdose deaths, 73 percent were a direct result of prescription medications.

During the five-year span, no children between the ages of 7 and 12 died in connection to overdose.

Jail

Pham said the new legislation expands opportunities for the jail to handle possible overdoses.

The most likely places for overdoses is the intake area, where the jail holds people who have recently been detained. In those areas, “we don’t know their background” or their mental and physical health until they are evaluated, Pham said.

The lobby, where the general public comes in, is another area where naloxone could be useful, he said.

Since Pham became superintendent about a year and a half ago, he said he’s only seen Narcan used twice; both times were in the intake area, and both were used as precautions.

“It makes our ability to address these critical life saving moments … more flexible,” Pham said.

The VPRJ serves Williamsburg, James City County and York County, and has already had Narcan on-hand for use by the medical staff — mostly nurses.

The jail currently employs eight nurses, Pham said.

Pham does not yet have an estimated timeframe for when additional naloxone will be purchased and made available within the jail, but said expanding the amount of naloxone available within the facility will “definitely” happen.

First, Pham needs to plan training for the officers, which could be done by jail nurses over time. That process will begin “relatively soon,” he said.

Instead of equipping each officer with naloxone, Pham said he might consider pairing doses of naloxone with the jails’ automated external defibrillators. There are six AEDs placed in strategic places around the jail for easy access in emergency situations.

“It’s better to be trained on it, know how to administer it, and never have to need it than the other way around,” Pham said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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