RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
As schools across the country prepared for the new school year, some districts were stocking up on something other than the usual school supplies - medication that reverses overdoses. It's an effort to save student lives given that since 2001, overdoses from heroin and opioid painkillers have more than tripled. Michelle Faust from member station WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., has this report.
MICHELLE FAUST, BYLINE: AnnMarie Zagari found her high school-aged son unresponsive on the couch after he took too many opioid painkillers in 2011.
ANNMARIE ZAGARI: I'm pounding on his chest. I had to give him CPR. He was just gone. And I'm pounding and I'm slapping him in the face.
FAUST: Zagari succeeded in reviving him.
ZAGARI: If I would've had the Narcan, I could have just gave it to him. It would have been instant revival.
FAUST: Zagari was lucky. Her son lived even without the overdose antidote naloxone, also known by the brand name, Narcan. Opioids kill by cutting off oxygen to the brain. Things could've easily gone wrong. Family stories of overdoses inspired the New York legislature to get the drug where young people are. Until this year, if a teen had an overdose at school, nurses in the state could only call 911. New York changed the law this year to allow them to add naloxone to their inventory. Schools in Vermont, Massachusetts and Delaware were among the first to adopt similar policies.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Go ahead and open them up.
FAUST: Dansville Central School District is one of the first in New York to adopt naloxone. And the week before students arrive for the new semester, nurses from 11 rural districts in western New York sit in a high school classroom learning about the emergency medication.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So the first thing that you're going to do...
FAUST: Dansville's prevention specialist, Dawn Landon, organized the training with support from a local nonprofit.
DAWN LANDON: What the district is putting forth, as far as an investment, is an hour of their nurse's time. And an hour of a nurse's time to save anyone's life, it's minimal.
FAUST: It's not such a clear-cut decision for many districts. In the neighboring state of Vermont, the Hartford School Board initially voted no to naloxone last fall. Board Chair Lori Dickerson says the board would not move forward until the nursing staff was confident.
LORI DICKERSON: So there was a lot of apprehension. And we were worried - we were really worried about liabilities.
FAUST: The biggest concern for most school administrators is whether using naloxone in a school will get them sued. What if something goes wrong, like a patient is misdiagnosed or if the medication has gone bad? Still, the Vermont district voted last month to bring naloxone into the schools. The Hartford school nurses bought into the idea after the National Association of School Nurses endorsed naloxone in June. Rebecca King co-authored the association's statement. She says nurses don't have time to waste in an overdose.
REBECCA KING: They are emergency responders and they should have naloxone available just like they have other medications, such as epinephrine.
FAUST: New York's Dansville Central School District superintendent, Paul Alioto, says he has no hesitation about bringing the drug to his district.
PAUL ALIOTO: We want to be in a position where we're equipped to save a life, if that's necessary. And they can sort the paperwork out and we can deal with the courts later, but, you know, our first priority is to keep our kids safe.
FAUST: No one is keeping track of how many kids are overdosing at school, but it is happening. Nearly a quarter of all teens report they've misused a prescription drug in their lifetimes. And more schools are weighing the need to stock drugs that can stop an overdose. For NPR News, I'm Michelle Faust in Rochester, N.Y.
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MONTAGNE: That story was produced with Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative that's focused on public health.
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