Bill aims to make opioid overdose medication easier to access for schools

By Madeline Coats

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Opioid overdose medication could become more readily available for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education in Washington state if a proposed bill passes.

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

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.

According to the bill, schools would be authorized to obtain and maintain opioid overdose medication through a standing order.

The bill would require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to consult with the Department of Health to develop opioid-related overdose guidelines and training 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 medications. 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.

According to RCW 69.41.095, opioid overdose medication refers to any drug used to reverse an overdose. The drug binds to opioid receptors and blocks or inhibits the effects of the opioids acting on those receptors.

Overdoses are typically conditions including 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, adding that it’s also inexpensive. The process of reversing an overdose needs to happen within four minutes from when the person stops breathing, Ebel said.

The United States is experiencing an opioid overdose epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said. In 2017, opioids killed 693 people in Washington state and overdoses caused more than 1,600 hospitalizations.

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, and 57 percent of heroin users in Washington were first addicted to pharmaceutical opioids.

OSPI said disastrous consequences can occur when leftover medication is shared to alleviate a friend’s pain or when children access unlocked medicine cabinets.

Robbie and Alene Holmberg are a mother and daughter from Bothell. The two women testified in support of HB 1039.

“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, because teachers cannot administer drugs to an unconscious person without consent.

“Trained volunteers do not need to be adults,” Holmberg 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.”

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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