Your back-to-school coverage continues with an in-depth look at how all three valley school districts are addressing the Fentanyl crisis. I-Team Reporter Karen Devine has been covering the crisis extensively and this time Devine is showing us how educators are taking a proactive approach.
Palm Springs, Desert Sands, and Coachella Valley Unified School Districts have all added new ways to educate students on the dangers of Fentanyl poisoning. Also new this year, the medication Narcan, used to reduce opioid overdose is now on every campus.
Educating kids about the dangers of drugs is nothing new. The Reagan era, “War on Drugs” and “Just Say No” campaign in the 80’s flooded communities with information led by Former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Fast forward 40-plus years and the risks associated with drug use and teens continue and with fentanyl in the picture the stakes are higher than ever.
“What’s changed is, 20-30 years ago people could experiment with drugs and now you can’t experiment because you don’t know what that drug is going to be laced with,” said Nurse Susan Kadel, Desert Sands Unified School District.
Driving the concern, the Coachella Valley has the most Fentanyl related overdose deaths than in any other part of the county so far this year. Making drug awareness a priority.
Desert Sands Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services, Laura Fisher says, “We have it embedded in the curriculum for middle school and high school and even our elementary. Elementary is very different, it’s your basic safety of medication because we now know Fentanyl can come in and look like candy.”
The District has also partnered with a local doctor from Eisenhower Health and Ronnie’s House, their Forever 18 Fentanyl Awareness Program.
“We teach them about the difference of fentanyl, pharmaceutical grade or illicit, we teach them about not putting their life in the hands of their friends, self medicating, making good choices and kind of give them a platform to understand really what it is,” said Jennifer Loza, founder Forever 18 Fentanyl Awareness Program.
The crisis, so prevalent, the California Department of Public Health issued a statewide standing order to increase access to the life-saving medication, Naloxone commonly known as Narcan, used to reduce opioid overdose.
All three school districts have added Narcan and training on how to use it.
According to Coachella Valley Unified School District Nurse, Shanna Hottinger, “Administration has been trained, health services techs have been trained, and anyone that volunteers, security, front office staff. Over the summer we were able to train 80 paraprofessionals. Also, staff from transportation has been trained.”
“Narcan is used if there’s a suspected overdose, say, if you find the person unresponsive, slow breaths, not breath, blue lips, than you would use it,” said Hottinger.
Narcan is a nasal spray, two come in a box and it’s quick and easy to use in case of an emergency.
“It goes into the nostril until your fingers touch the end of the person’s nose and then it’s a quick click,” said Kadel.
That action alone should restore a persons breathing and give time for first responders to render aid.
While narcan is available in case of an emergency, all districts are pro-active in pushing to educate students before a crisis happens.
Palm Springs Unified says they are working to partner with Riverside University Health System holding presentations and assemblies for some of the staff and students.
Desert Sands added a QR code to the lanyards that middle and high schools students are required to wear this year that takes them directly to information on the dangers of Fentanyl from the Riverside County District Attorney’s office.
“Lots of times students don’t want to have that conversation out loud. With an adult, even a trusted adult at school, they sometimes want to have a little more anonymity,” says Kadel.
She went on to say all students have phones and that’s the best way to reach them.
All three districts say they have not had a situation where they’ve had to use the Narcan on school campuses so far.
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