By Ned Newton
The Rockbridge County Public Schools Board has made Naloxone, a synthetic drug that reverses an opioid overdose, available to all Rockbridge County public schools as opioid overdoses continue rising in Virginia.
“It’s a preventative thing,” said Dr. Michael Craft, principal of Rockbridge County High School. “We’re not going to ignore that overdoses happen in our society, and it’s here in Rockbridge County.”
In 2022, over 11,000 Virginians visited an emergency department for an opioid overdose, according to the Virginia Department of Health. That year, the total increased by about 700 visits.
“With the rising opioid crisis, at a certain point it will enter Rockbridge County, and we want to be ready,” said Dr. Matt Crossman, director of school services for the country schools.
The RCPS Board announced the new policy at a meeting on March 14. The policy states that Naloxone, also known as Narcan, will be available and maintained in the school clinic at all Rockbridge County public schools. Administrators, principals, assistant principals and school nurses have the ability to administer Narcan, and those who received training will be reinstructed every two years.
School staff members from all Rockbridge County public schools met at the Maury River Middle School library on March 13 to receive training through the Virginia Department of Health REVIVE! Program. An instructor demonstrated how to properly administer Narcan and how to look for signs of an overdose.
“The Virginia Department of Health highly recommended a medicine administration usage policy so people that are trained use it, not other people,” Crossman said.
Crossman said schools in Rockbridge County have had access to Narcan for around a year, but only school resource officers had training and could administer it. Now, school staff also can.
“If we have any suspicion that someone passed out because of a drug overdose, we have multiple people trained in every building,” Craft said. “There’s no delay for emergency medical services to get here.”
Rockbridge County is not the first to implement a Narcan policy in Virginia schools. The Virginia Department of Health has provided Narcan to 39 school divisions across the state since late 2021, according to an email from the Fairfax County Public School Board, who implemented a Narcan policy last November.
“In today’s world with the drugs in our community, I think it’s a great thing to have Narcan in schools to be on the safe side,” said Craig Lawhorn, the school resource officer at Rockbridge County High School.
Narcan has proven its ability in Lexington and Rockbridge County
Last month, Lexington Police Department Officer Loran Dreelin administered Narcan and revived a Lexington resident who was experiencing an opioid overdose. Lawhorn said he has used Narcan four times throughout his eight years as a sergeant at the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office.
“With fentanyl being mixed into so many drugs now, Narcan definitely saves lives,” he said.
Overdose deaths involving fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, increased by 182% among American adolescents aged 10 to 19 between 2019 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Almost 25% of deaths involved counterfeit pills.
Fentanyl has made its way into Rockbridge County. Lawhorn said the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office had to execute a search warrant earlier this month at a Natural Bridge residence for fentanyl pills.
When executing the search on March 13, sheriff’s deputies found fentanyl pressed into pills counterfeited to look like regulated drugs with the label M30, as well as a set of digital scales and cut straws with residue, according to the search warrant.
“They’re making them look like a pharmaceutical drug that you can legally get a prescription for,” said Philip Flint, the investigator who executed the search and seizure. “One fear is if somebody is addicted to Percocet and they buy what they think to be Percocet on the street, it’s actually fentanyl. It can cause overdose deaths.”
Craft said he is worried about his students that use more mild drugs because there is no telling what it could be laced with, and it could lead to an overdose. Narcan is the safest way to reverse an overdose because it does not have negative side effects if the individual is not overdosing.
“We need to be prepared as a school system for if something like that happens, so we have the tools and resources to respond,” he said. “We can’t hurt somebody by giving it to them. If we’re wrong, there’s no negative side effects. It’s a win, win.”