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Nearly 30 percent of school districts carry opioid overdose drug

As the opioid epidemic continues to take lives across the state, nearly a third of Massachusetts school districts have chosen to carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

The Department of Public Health conducted a survey at the beginning of October and found that at least 133 districts — about 30 percent of the state's total —have equipped or are expecting to equip their nurses with the medicine, which also goes by the brand name Narcan.

The department said 260 of 408 school districts in Massachusetts responded to the survey.

Mary Ann Gapinski, director of school health services for the department, said Narcan is in schools primarily to help community members who may need emergency overdose treatment.

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There has not been a significant problem with students overdosing, Gapinski said, though she said Narcan would be helpful in the event of a dangerous in-school reaction to an opioid.

Schools are often hubs for various community events, and host parents and other adults daily, she said. Gapinski characterized the Narcan as another emergency tool for schools officials.

Many facilities already carry AED defibrillators and epinephrine, the drug used to combat severe allergic reactions, she noted.

Nurses at preschools up through high schools have been trained to use nasal naloxone, applied as a spray in the nostrils. The department is not currently training school nurses to administer the naloxone by injection.

Gapinski added that an overdose incident on school grounds can be reached faster by a school nurse than first-responders, conserving the life-saving seconds it takes to revive a person.

"Schools, as part of that community effort, need to be prepared to respond to [overdoses] as well," Gapkinski said.

The department will pay for and provide training for schools interested in carrying Narcan, but schools may be charged between $55 and $90 for each dose of the drug.

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"I think we're going to continue to see this across the state," Gapinski said, "we've had a lot of response from other first-responders in the community to make it available."


Sarah Roberts can be reached at sarah.roberts@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @heysarahroberts