DOH secretary announces statewide Narcan distribution at Northeastern

Margarita Cambest
  • Department of Health Secretary Karen Murphy visited Northeastern High School to announce the distribution of Narcan to 128 public schools.
  • The drug is used to slow or prevent the effects of an overdose.
  • School districts may still apply to receive two doses of the medication.

If Pennsylvania is going to cut down on overdose deaths, health officials say it’s going to have to start in schools.

Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy visited Northeastern High School to talk about the department’s efforts to get Narcan — a brand of the medication naloxone that is used to block the effects of opioids such as heroin and prescription pain medicine — into all of Pennsylvania's high schools.

When administered during an overdose, the medication blocks the effects on the brain and restores breathing. State officials hope by making the medication available they're able to prevent drug overdose deaths in the schools.

In this file photo, state Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy visits Northeastern High School in 2016 to announce the department’s distribution of naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids like heroin and prescription pain medicine, to 128 public schools.

In partnership with Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company Adapt Pharma, the state secured enough Narcan to distribute two doses each to 128 public high schools, including Northeastern. Officials hope getting the medication in public high schools will help prevent deaths.

With 10 deaths in the state each day attributed to opioids, Murphy said it was only a matter of time before a student’s life will need to be saved by the medication.

“We can save your generation,” she told a group of high-schoolers gathered in Northeastern’s library for the announcement on Thursday. “We have to focus, unfortunately, on treatment for the rest of the population.”

Deaths: According to a report produced this year by the Philadelphia Drug Enforcement Agency, 3,383 drug-related overdose deaths were reported in Pennsylvania in 2015, an increase of 23.4 percent from the total number of overdose deaths reported in 2014. Ninety-nine of those deaths happened in York County.

Those statistics have Murphy and others worried.

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"We know this is a systemic problem and want Narcan to be everywhere. This is the AED of drug overdoses," she said, referring to the portable emergency devices used to restart or restore a heart's beating.

Murphy praised and thanked Northeastern’s principal, school nurse and Students Against Destructive Decisions. Club members sat in the front row during Murphy’s address. The club provides students with tools to deal with the issues of underage drinking, drug use, impaired driving and other destructive decisions, according to its website.

“Northeastern is really doing quite a bit to help fight drug and alcohol abuse,” said principal Mathew Gay.

Northeastern staff members, he said, have their suspicions that students have overdosed outside of school, but he knows of no reported cases at the high school yet. However, Gay said having Narcan available can prevent a problem that seems inevitable given the prevalence of opioid addiction in the commonwealth.

To get the medication, Northeastern administrators and the school nurse drafted formal requests to individual school boards, presented a standing order from a school physician, attended training on how to use the drug and applied to the state. Doses are still available for other school districts through the department. Find out more here.