Bill proposes schools get opioid overdose medication

By Madeline Coats

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

The opioid overdose medication Narcan could become more readily available at public schools and Washington state colleges and universities under proposed legislation.

“Anyone can resuscitate someone with Narcan,” Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said. “It is incredibly easy,”

Narcan is the brand name of Naloxone, a type of nasal spray that treats opioid overdoses in an emergency situation. The medication can be purchased at most retail pharmacies without a prescription, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

House Bill 1039 is co-sponsored by 22 representatives and introduced by Pollet. The group includes 21 Democrats and Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw.

Schools would be authorized to obtain and maintain opioid overdose medication through a standing order under the proposed legislation. The bill requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to consult with the Department of Health to develop opioid-related overdose guidelines and trainings for public school districts.

HB 1039 aims to develop a grant program to fund the training at schools and institutions on how to administer the antidote to overdoses. The bill also intends to provide public colleges and universities with a plan for the maintenance and administration of opioid overdose medication in and around residence halls.

The drug binds to opioid receptors and blocks or inhibits the effects of the opioids acting on those receptors. Overdoses can lead to extreme physical illness, loss of consciousness, respiratory depression, coma or death.

“Narcan is not a narcotic,” said Dr. Beth Ebel from Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The process of reversing an overdose needs to happen within four minutes from when a person stops breathing, Ebel said.

Robbie and Alene Holmberg, a mother and daughter from Bothell, testified in support of the bill.

“My daughter became addicted to heroin her junior year of high school,” said the mother, Robbie. “I try to carry Narcan with me at all times.”

As an educator, Holmberg cannot respond to an overdose on a school campus without fear of breaking a law or losing her job, she said at the hearing. Under current law, teachers cannot administer drugs to an unconscious person without consent.

“Trained volunteers do not need to be adults,” she said. “We all know someone who struggles with addiction. Having Narcan in our schools and colleges would greatly help decrease the emergency response and save lives.”

Like all states, Washington is struggling with how to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic.

In 2017, opioids killed 693 people in Washington and overdoses caused more than 1,600 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show that 57 percent of heroin users in Washington were first addicted to pharmaceutical opioids.

National Institute of Drug Abuse data indicates that up to 29 percent of patients misuse opioid medication prescribed for chronic pain, and up to 6 percent of people who misuse prescription opioids eventually transition to heroin.

Deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled in the nation since 1999, according to the CDC.