South Carolina schools now prepared to combat opioid overdoses

The Lifesaving Medication Act allows school nurses to administer inhalers, EpiPens and Narcan
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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SOUTH CAROLINA (FOX Carolina) - A new law will give school nurses the ability to help more children and possibly save a life.

In a previous FOX Carolina investigation, we found students were overdosing inside Upstate schools.

Laws at the time didn’t allow school nurses to use Narcan, a lifesaving medication in the form of a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

After our reporting Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill into law changing that: the Lifesaving Medication Act.

School nurses can now stock and administer inhalers, EpiPens and Narcan.

“We need to have this,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, the state’s director of public health. “This is a safe, effective medication that we’re making available to schools to have on hand for free.”

Overdoses in South Carolina schools have been on the rise.

In 2019, there were 12 instances where Narcan was administered in a suspected overdose. In 2022 the total reached 17, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The data estimates between 70-75% of those cases involved children and teens under 20.

“Even if it just saves one life this year, it still is worth it, in my opinion,” Traxler said.

DHEC is supplying schools across the state with doses of Narcan through a federal grant called Overdose Data to Action.

At least 47 school districts across the state attended distribution days in Columbia earlier this August, including Anderson District 5 and the School District of Pickens County.

SDPC spokesperson Darian Byrd said they aren’t ready to administer the drug yet.

“At this time, we are awaiting the protocol, standing order, and training that DHEC has said would be given to each district that is accepting the supply,” Byrd said.

Spartanburg School District 7 spokesperson Beth Lancaster said they will be receiving their Narcan from DHEC in the coming months.

At Greenville County Schools, head nurse Janet Lage said training began at the end of the last school year, and they have every district building stocked.

“I think it’s very important that we have that, and it’s available to us,” Lage said.

Our initial FOX Carolina Investigates story on Narcan in schools revealed an incident at Greenville County’s Woodruff High School last October when a school resource officer had to revive a student with two doses of Narcan.

Lage said the new law will allow more than just the school nurses to get trained.

“The nurses will then train our first responders in the buildings, which is our volunteer staff, which is trained in first aid,” Lage said.

When Narcan is administered, school officials will have to complete a form for DHEC. These forms will gather information about when the overdose happened, where, the patient and how many doses were required.

Traxler said this data will help DHEC understand and address opioid usage among children and teens.