Sullivan schools to keep opioid antidote naloxone on hand

Rick Wagner • Sep 4, 2018 at 12:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — All Sullivan County schools soon will have Narcan, the brand name of opioid antagonist or antidote naloxone.

School nurses and administrators will be trained to administer the lifesaving drug for opioid overdoses under a protocol and emergency prescription of Dr. Andrew May, medical director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.

Overdoses cause breathing to cease.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Board of Education is set to approve a Narcan policy on the first and only reading, rather than the traditional two readings. That vote will allow naloxone to be used in schools, once training is completed, per a recent addition to Tennessee law.

“We haven’t entered into this casually,” Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski told the board at its work session Thursday evening. “Medical professionals are 100 percent behind having this in the schools.” 

Rafalowski said local law enforcement and emergency medical personnel already are trained to dispense the medicine and have it available. However, in addition to that availability, two doses of the lifesaving drug are to be on hand at each school, with the school nurse and administrators trained to administer it before emergency responders arrive.

The antidote has become increasingly common in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Rafalowski said she thinks at least the initial round of the drug is being provided through the health department at no charge to the county school system, and she thanked May for his support of the school system in the matter. 

May said that he is not sure of the funding source for the antidote to be used in the schools, but he said in many instances law enforcement gets it funded through grants.

May and Rafalowski said Diane Copas, school health services director, also is working on implementing the soon-to-be-approved policy change, but Copas could not be reached for comment Friday.

“This is a lifesaving drug that can be given in the face of an acute opioid overdose,” May said Friday afternoon.

He said the antidote reverses the opioid overdose effect of stopping a patient from breathing. 

“If you ever looked for a magic pill or antidote, this is it.”

May said the drug has “virtually no side effects.”

He said the law allows the antidote’s use in schools by those who go through simple training, as well as anyone in the public with a high-risk individual in their family.

May said the most common form, intranasal using an atomizer, is what will be used in the school system, although naloxone also can be used with an auto injector or through trach tubes.

“It buys the few minutes you may need to keep someone alive,” May said.

Otherwise, a six- to 10-minute emergency response while an overdose victim is not breathing could be too late.

May likened using Narcan to EpiPens dispensing epinephrine to offset allergic reactions.