How Blair is responding to the fentanyl crisis
Statistics and information in this article is accurate as of Feb. 17, 2023 unless otherwise noted.
"It's a crisis. It's a crisis. Anything that can kill kids is a crisis," says Blair principal Renay Johnson about the ballooning numbers of fentanyl overdoses in MCPS. Her classification is spot-on – reported fatal youth overdoses in Montgomery County have more than doubled since 2021.
11 Montgomery County students died of an overdose in 2022. As of January 30, 2023, Narcan, a drug used in the case of opioid emergencies, has been administered to students 11 times this school year. Five MCPS students have died since September. On the Blair campus, staff members have administered the emergency drug in two incidents of student overdoses, while three additional students overdosed outside of school grounds since the start of the school year..
The recent explosion of these medical emergencies warranted an immediate response from all levels of the education system, from the Blair administration to the state government. Officials have taken several measures to ensure "safety and security, good health, well-being, and social-emotional support for Blazers," Johnson says.
Narcan (also known as Naloxone) is a lifesaving drug that can almost immediately temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids such as Fentanyl. Narcan is administered by spraying a dose of the drug into the patient's nostrils. Experts direct that Narcan should be given to anyone experiencing overdose symptoms because it poses absolutely no risk to the patient.
Narcan is at the center of Blair and MCPS' response to this crisis. Previously, it was only available in the health and main office. However, in the event of an overdose in a building as large as Blair, the time it would take to track down a Narcan kit and return to the patient to administer it could very well be the difference between life and death.
Consequently, Blair administration has organized several events training staff members to administer the drug. The MCPS Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Patricia Kauffman, attended a PTA meeting at Blair. In addition, Ben Stevenson from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services facilitated two after school Narcan trainings for staff in the auditorium. He distributed Narcan kits to those in attendance.
These kits contain two vials of Narcan, two nasal sprays, two face shields, and a pair of medical gloves (fentanyl is so potent that merely brushing against a few grains of it can cause it to be absorbed through cuts in the skin, through the nose, mouth, or ears, and enter the bloodstream, contributing to a potential overdose).
The idea is to make the drug abundant and rapidly accessible anywhere. "It'll be throughout the building," Johnson says. Specifically, it will be available in the classrooms of teachers who attended the trainings and received the kits, be carried by security personnel, and be stored in each department room.
The distribution of Narcan is critical in hastening the response process as soon as staff learn of a suspected overdose. Security first dials 911 as soon as they confirm that there is a medical emergency. The school nurse is then notified, and they render first aid until first responders arrive. It is during this period between the first report and the arrival of the paramedics that Narcan is administered by a staff member trained in Narcan administration.
Despite its importance, Narcan is not a systemic solution to the fentanyl crisis. Blair administration and the SGA consider awareness about the issue as the primary tool to combat it. AJ Jacobs is a junior in the SGA who helped organize a forum for students to voice their opinions and ask questions about fentanyl and the school's response to it on Feb. 16. "It's bad that we have to turn to Narcan to help address the issue… I think it's a step in the right direction. I think it's a band-aid on a wound. It's not actually addressing what caused the wound," he says.
To that end, Blair counselors hosted a week dedicated to awareness of the fentanyl crisis. MCPS is also hosting forums at different high schools throughout the county for parents, students, and staff to attend about the crisis. The Blair SGA's outreach program, OneBlair, has hosted a similar forum.
An issue that needs to be solved
On Saturday, Feb. 25, MCPS will host a forum on fentanyl from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m in the Northwood High School auditorium. Representatives from the county health department and the police will share information on the dangers of fentanyl, prevention tools, and resources for treatment such as Narcan training and distribution of Narcan kits.
Additionally, next week Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office will hold presentations at Blair entitled, “Speak Up, Save a Life” on Monday Feb. 27 and Tuesday Feb. 28 to educate students more on the dangers of fentanyl and what actions to take in the case of a student overdosing.
The fentanyl crisis is a developing issue that constantly requires adjusting strategy. Thus, while the Blair administration has taken some steps such as holding Narcan training meetings for staff and educational forums, they still have much more work to do.
For more information about the fentanyl presentations next week at Blair, click here.
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