FOX Carolina Investigates: Narcan needed in schools?

Narcan in Schools
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - FOX Carolina Investigates is revealing how the nationwide opioid epidemic is slowly infiltrating South Carolina schools.

Our investigation began with a tip about drug use in schools and led us to uncover a potentially deadly problem: when students overdose, school nurses can’t help them.

Oct. 27, 2022

FOX Carolina News filed almost 20 Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies across the Upstate and found several instances where a student experienced an overdose.

A detailed incident report from the school resource officer of Woodmont High School in Greenville County laid out how quickly a situation can become deadly.

Records show that an officer was called to the gym for a student having a medical emergency, and an administrator told him a student was unconscious at the top of the bleachers.

The officer wrote the student was “laying on his side, blue in color … cold to the touch,” and he “did not appear to be breathing nor have a pulse.”

According to records, the sophomore was overdosing.

The epidemic spreads

“We have been made aware of more adolescents who are beginning to overdose. It’s really kind of scary,” Jessica Owens, chief operating officer of The Phoenix Center, said.

The Phoenix Center is a Greenville-based non-profit specializing in substance abuse prevention and intervention services.

Owens has seen South Carolina’s opioid overdoses jump 25% in recent years, and she said the epidemic is creeping into Upstate schools.

“A lot of us have kids in this community, and the thought that it could be going on in my child’s school, it makes me really nervous,” Owens said.

Thankfully, there’s Narcan – a lifesaving drug in the form of a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

But right now – school employees cannot administer it. Not even those that are medically trained.

‘School nurses are frustrated’

The South Carolina Overdose Prevention Act only allows first responders and caregivers to administer the drug, also known by its generic name, naloxone.

It says nothing about school nurses.

“Frustrated, school nurses are frustrated,” said Dawn MacAdams, the president-elect of the South Carolina Association of School Nursess. “Statewide, I know there have been nurses that have been in the predicament of needing to administer naloxone, and they have been fortunate to have a resource officer to administer it.”

MacAdams said she’s made sure all the school resource officers in Richland Two, the school district where she works, are equipped with Narcan after several close calls.

In addition to the Woodmont High School situation, we found Spartanburg County records showing three calls to EMS for overdoses at schools.

One was at Fairforest Middle School last March, another at Rainbow Lake Middle School last October, and most recently at Dorman High School in February.

MacAdams said they aren’t seeing a student overdosing every day.

“But we don’t want to get to that point before we’re prepared,” she said.

At the statehouse

During this legislative session, lawmakers proposed two bills that could allow nurses to take action.

House Bill 4122 amends the law allowing school nurses to administer epinephrine, better known as an epi-pen when a student is having an allergic reaction. If passed – it would allow nurses to give students any “lifesaving medication.”

There’s also House Bill 3735, which would allow schools to stock Narcan and enable school nurses and other designated employees to administer doses.

“This would make it clear. We need to make it clear for a lot of reasons. Number one would be liability for instance. Number two would be just the fact that they wouldn’t hesitate to use it,” said Rep. McCravy, who wrote Bill 3735. “There’s certainly no reason that a school nurse should not have this.

McCravy’s home county of Greenwood had more than 420 non-fatal drug overdoses and another 40 fatal ones last year.

“We’ve had an epidemic of these overdoses just like every county in South Carolina. You can’t hide it anymore. There’s no need to hide it,” he said. “It needs to be out in the open and needs to be talked about and we need to get these remedies out there.”

Owens said understanding overdoses can and are happening at school – could save a student’s life.

“A lot of times, we are not expecting our young folks to overdose, so it may take us a little bit longer to respond to that incident because that’s not the first thing that comes to our mind when we see an emergency on campus,” she said.

‘He began to breathe’

In Woodmont High School’s gym, the school resource officer “immediately administered” one dose of Narcan to the student, according to the incident report.

But “the subject did not respond.”

The report said the school nurse stood by monitoring the student’s vital signs.

The report said the student’s breathing was “very shallow,” and “his eyes rolled back.”

The officer gave him a second dose.

Finally, the report said, they “were able to detect a pulse, and he began to breathe.”

For MacAdams, it’s a situation she hopes she never has to be in.

“I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be for a school nurse to have someone who needs naloxone, and we can’t administer it,” she said.

On the second to last day of the regular session, lawmakers passed Bill 4122. Now it just needs a signature from Governor Henry McMaster to become law.

Unfortunately, not all schools have nurses. MacAdams said that’s why it’s critical for this new law to include other staff members.

We reached out to the Greenville County School District. They declined to do an interview but told us they are considering implementing a program to stock and administer Narcan.

We also took a look at reports of other drugs causing overdoses in Upstate schools. We broke down what we found down below.

A closer look at some recent incidents where officials have responded after students overdose at Upstate schools