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New program to fight opioid crisis in Alabama schools

A new program was introduced to bring a medicine to help save lives in Alabama high schools.

Posted: Jan 30, 2019 6:30 PM
Updated: Jan 30, 2019 9:29 PM

An opioid-reversing drug will soon be available to Alabama schools.

The state just announced the drug, Naloxone, which reverses an overdose, will be made available in all public high schools that want to participate. Staffers would be trained to administer the drug through an auto-injector.

State Superintendent Eric Mackley believes this program has the potential to save the lives of students.

“Our primary responsibilities are to keep our students safe and ensure they receive the best possible education to prepare them for life after high school. This important development speaks to that first responsibility of student safety,” Mackey said. “Of course, the hope is that none of our students will be in a situation where they need an injection to prevent them from a possibly fatal opioid overdose. However, we know that the opioid crisis is nothing unique to Alabama. This is an issue of national concern. It is fortunate that Alabama has taken such a lead in keeping our students safe.”

The program also has support of the attorney general.

Attorney General Steve Marshall told WAAY 31 he was hesitant at first because he feared it would encourage teens to use drugs. The battle is a personal one for him after his wife's suicide while battling addiction. After a conversation with a doctor, Marshall changed his mind.

"I was talking to one of the doctors about that, and he looked at me and said, 'Well, I can't help them if they're dead,'" Marshall said. "That really was an eye-opener for me to say that I can't help someone if they made the decision to overdose and die."

David Leonard is a minister who works with teens. He says he knows the effects of opioid abuse on young adults.

"Sometimes a well meaning young person can inadvertently get involved with a crowd, and find themselves in an uncompromising position," Leonard said. "We need to educate our students, our parents, our teachers about the challenges of our young people."

Leonard, along with parents WAAY 31 spoke to, agreed school staff should be equipped for the worst-case scenario.

"If the child is definitely having a drug overdose, they're going to be in a bad way anyway, so Narcan won't make it any worse," a parent, Catherine O'kain, said. "I think it can only be beneficial. I don't see any negatives to it."

WAAY 31 reached out to school districts across North Alabama. Some expressed an interest in being a part of the program.

Huntsville City Schools said it's looking at the next steps in bringing the program here.

According to Keith Ward with the district, "Huntsville City Schools will be developing procedures and training for our health services staff in the near future. Staff training is required before a school system may qualify to receive medication."

Madison County said it's interested as well, but it will take time to set up protocol with the school board.

Limestone County Schools, Morgan County Schools and Decatur City Schools still have no opinion at this time and are looking into the program before making a decision.

The program is available to all public high schools in the state, but it is not mandatory.

"I think it's a very proactive step to try and be able to save lives," Marshall said.

The funding for the drug is secured through the Alabama Department of Public Health, so there is no cost for Alabama schools.

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