Overdose deaths among teens have been on the rise for years and now the Biden administration is urging schools to purchase and carry the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
In a joint letter to educators Monday, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said every school in the United States should carry naloxone, adding that faculty and students alike should be prepared to use the nasal spray to stop an overdose.
“We want to share resources that could help your school and community prevent drug use before it begins and keep students alive long enough to get the help they need in the event of an overdose or poisoning,” Gupta and Cardona wrote.
“We will encourage businesses, restaurants, banks, construction sites, schools, others to think about this – think about it as a smoke alarm or a defibrillator, to make it as easily accessible, because it’s not just you. It could be your neighbor, it could be your family, your friend, a person at work or school who might need it,” Gupta said at the time of the approval.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, for over-the-counter use earlier this year.
The maker of OTC Narcan, Emergent BioSolutions, said last month that it was lowering the medication’s price for community groups, first responders, state and local governments, and harm reduction groups to $41 per two-dose carton.
Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain and restoring breathing. It must be given as soon as signs of overdose appear in order to be most effective. The drug only works on someone who has opioids in their system and won’t work on any other type of drug overdose. However, it won’t have adverse effects if given to someone who hasn’t taken opioids.
In the past two decades, more than 5,000 children and teens have died from overdoses involving fentanyl, according to data published in JAMA Pediatrics in May. More than half of those deaths occurred in the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There were about 1,550 pediatric deaths from fentanyl in 2021 — over 30 times more than in 2013 when the wave of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids started in the US. Since 1999, the vast majority of pediatric deaths from fentanyl have been among teens ages 15 to 19.
“A teenager today can log onto social media with a smartphone and buy what they think is an opioid pain medicine or a prescription stimulant to help them study — and instead die from one pill that actually has fentanyl in it,” Gupta and Cardona highlighted in their letter.
Overall, more than 112,000 people died from an overdose in the US overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in May 2023, according to estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were involved in the vast majority of those overdose deaths, according to the provisional data.
The push from the Biden administration comes as the White House hosts its Youth Substance Use Prevention Summit to raise awareness of the dangers of illicit drugs such as fentanyl, decrease stigma around mental health, and strengthen the safety of communities.
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“Schools are integral to the success of local Drug Free Communities, along with parents, civic organizations, law enforcement, media, and other coalition partners,” Cardona said in a statement. “The U.S. Department of Education is committed to helping schools build positive school cultures, embrace evidence-based drug prevention strategies, and equip staff with the tools and the training to intervene in the event of drug-induced health emergencies.”
Officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they support the effort to bring naloxone to US schools.
“We at CDC are committed to building drug-free communities and working in communities with the coalitions to keep our country’s children safe from dangerous substances,” CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Debra Houry said in a statement. “While we have made progress as a nation, there is more work to be done to reduce overdoses and prevent youth substance use.”
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Meg Tirrell, and Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.