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TALLAHASSEE medic Mark Rowley did not recognize the young man's face on the stretcher. Until he looked past the oxygen mask and the wires, he saw only one other overdose victim who was holding on to life.
But it wasn't just another victim: he was his mentee and barely breathed after smoking marijuana, which he believed was spiked with fentanyl, a potent opioid.
"It was my friend – my friend," said Rowley, deputy chief of information services for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Service. "I am not a parent, but that was roughly the understanding I was able to convey to a parent who has a child who takes drugs or overdoses or dies."
Rowley's friend, who is not named to protect his identity, survived his fentanyl overdose.
First responders like Rowley carry a potent opioid overdose medication – known as naloxone – that can save lives when injected or sprayed into a patient's nose. The U.S. general surgeon has called for wider access to the drug to reduce overdose deaths, but lawmakers haven't adopted a measure that could make the drug more widely available in Florida schools – although in many cases it is free for schools.
Bill SB 120 was not particularly controversial – it was unanimously approved by two Senate committees before being filled in a third committee, and a house version of the proposal, HB 331, died earlier this month in a subcommittee without a vote.
Senate Act sponsor Senator Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said he would launch another version next year. Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington passed bills to expand school access to naloxone last year.
Pizzo, a business consultant and former prosecutor, said the bill would have enabled school workers to administer the drug quickly without waiting for paramedics to arrive. Rowley agreed that emergency responders can arrive too late to save students' lives because opioids can peak in seconds or minutes.
"Which parent doesn't want something to be there to give his child a chance?" he said.
The bill did not explicitly specify how school staff should be trained, except that schools "must adopt a protocol developed by an approved doctor for the administration of the drug by school staff who is trained to detect an opioid overdose." and administer naloxone. "
Keith Flaugh of the Conservative Florida Citizens & # 39; Alliance of Naples rejected the Senate bill.
"It made no sense for us to allow untrained and unsupervised school staff to give this medicine to put children at risk," said Flaugh in an email interview. Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Flaugh as an advisory education committee.
Rowley, the first aider, said that students who try drugs at school don't recognize the risks because opioids like fentanyl are often mixed with other drugs.
"This is not your grandmother's heroin," Rowley said. "As a medic … you think you can save everyone. But you can't. "
In the Capitol, Pizzo, Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, refused to hear the legislation because she believed Florida's Good Samaritan law gave schools sufficient access to naloxone granted. Burton did not respond to two calls and an email asking to discuss the issue.
The Senate bill would not have provided schools with money to buy naloxone, but would have empowered schools to buy it at fair, free, or reduced prices, and released school staff from liability as long as it was trained.
The United States Food and Drug Administration, which approved naloxone in 1971, said dose packs can range from $ 29 to $ 4,641. Narcan, the most common brand of naloxone, costs $ 142 per two-dose pack.
At least one company, Adapt Pharma, offers each carton of its Narcan Nasal Spray Schools program two boxes of its branded drug Narcan for free.
Pizzo said he first heard from three students at Miami High School in 2019 that schools need naloxone: Asher Lieberman (18), Genna Grodin (17) and Jolie Dreiling (18).
Lieberman organized the group after working on a needle exchange program to prevent the spread of HIV and other communicable and contagious diseases. While working there in Miami, he said he would give opioid-dependent doses of Narcan, the nasal spray form of naloxone.
“People came in and said, 'I saved a life this morning. I need a refill, ”said Lieberman. "I immediately saw how big a difference Narcan has made in her life."
As a drug to reverse opioid overdose, naloxone only stops opioid overdose and has no adverse effects when used in people who have not been exposed to opioids.
"The worst thing that can happen is that you get a runny nose," said Rowley.
Lieberman, Grodin, and Dreiling contacted state officials after learning that Florida was not one of the at least six states in which school workers can currently store and administer naloxone: Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
In 2017, Florida was responsible for 12% of national daily opioid deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health. Former governor Rick Scott signed a law in 2018 to combat opioid addiction after years of high overdose deaths across the state. Florida has been facing the opioid epidemic for years, but most efforts to date have not focused on students.
According to Rowley's data from Duval County, three children aged 0 to 9 and almost two dozen between 10 and 19 were overdosed with opioids in 2018. There were three overdoses on the school premises in 2019 and one in 2018.
In other words, students are exposed.
Dreiling said that while some people believe that access to naloxone on campus could increase opioid use, she believes it is necessary and should be stigmatized.
"It's like safe sex programs," she said. "It only adds protection."
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. These
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