With the opioid epidemic touching the lives of one in three North Carolinians, what can schools do to help? A lot, according to school nurses.
The Journal of Addictive Diseases recently published a survey of nearly 30 percent of registered school nurses in the Carolinas. About 40 percent said they had encountered a student with an opioid prescription in the past year. Yet only four percent said they had the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone available at their schools.
“We have EpiPens stocked in the schools in case of anaphylactic shock, but we don’t have anything like that with opioids,” said Delesha Carpenter, an author on the survey and associate professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “It seems like an area that could be addressed with some policies at the statewide level or national level.”
Carpenter said some districts have been reluctant to distribute Naloxone out of fear it would encourage opioid use. But she said research has shown this to not be the case.
“Especially in more rural areas, where there might be more stigma attached to drug use and whatnot, there could be resistance from parents,” she said. “It’s a sensitive issue, but I think a lot of the sensitivity stems around that misperception that… ‘Oh, well everyone is going to do more opioids if they could just reverse the opioid overdose.’”
Access to Naloxone was just one of the topics covered in the survey and should be viewed as a Band-Aid for the issue, Carpenter said.
“It’s not a prevention-oriented way to deal with the epidemic,” she said.
Seventy percent of nurses surveyed said their students would benefit from opioid education. Sixty percent said they wanted training to identify students at risk for addiction.
“If we can screen children and identify ones that might be at risk of developing substance abuse issues, we might be able to get in and intervene early, or route those children to resources that could actually prevent the drug addiction from happening in the first place,” Carpenter said.
What’s needed most for school nurses to play a part in combating this epidemic, Carpenter said, is more resources and support, particularly for nurses who split their time between various schools.
“You might just be putting out the fires that occur daily with the falls and the other things, helping children with their diabetes medications on campus, or asthma emergencies, and not have a lot of time to do these more prevention-focused activities,” she said. “It would be wonderful if we could have a full-time school nurse at every school."