Time to talk about carrying naloxone in schools, parent advocates say

School boards in Edmonton should consider carrying naloxone kits that reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, says a mother who lost her son to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2014.

Edmonton school boards’ current policies don’t allow staff to administer medication in case of an overdose

Edmonton's public and Catholic schools do not currently carry naloxone. (CBC)

Edmonton schools should consider stocking naloxone kits to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, says a mother who lost her son to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2014.

"It is medication, but I would compare it more to giving first aid," said Petra Schulz, founder of Moms Stop The Harm, a network for people who have lost loved ones to substance abuse. 

Schulz told CBC News that several mothers in her group have lost their high-school-aged children to overdoses.

"There are many families who mourn, and would love for anybody to take the opportunity to save a person if they witness an overdose."

She thinks each school should have a staff member trained to recognize and respond to an overdose. 

Petra Schulz is the founder of Moms Stop The Harm, a network that advocates for a harm reduction approach to the opioid crisis. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

Schools follow policy

Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools told CBC News their schools do not carry naloxone kits, because policies require parental consent before administering medication. 

"The protocol when a student goes into medical distress is to call 911," Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson Megan Normandeau said in an email. "While many of our staff are first-aid trained, they are not health care professionals."

Both school boards say their policies were developed with the guidance of Alberta Health Services. 

"We have a strong partnership with Alberta Health Services on many issues, including this one, and continue to work with them on responding to any and all health issues that may occur in our schools," Lori Nagy, spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic, said in an email. 

There have been no overdose deaths in Alberta schools, according to the ministry of education.

Policy can be changed

Education Minister David Eggen encouraged school boards to consider revisiting their policies on Wednesday, after Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate released a report calling for more education on opioids in schools. 

"There are schools that are building protocol around naloxone kits at this point in time, so it'll be interesting to see," said Eggen. "There's no barrier for school boards to pursue that, if they think it's best for the kids."

Maralyn Benay, co-founder of Parents Empowering Parents, agreed the conversation needs to happen soon.

"This is a good discussion for the schools to have," said Benay. "I think it's time for them to sit down at the table and talk."  

Need for education

Schulz said she's disappointed that Edmonton school boards haven't started that process.

"There could be a choking incident, and we don't tell teachers to not do the Heimlich manoeuvre because they're not a doctor," she said. "I just think that's a false argument."

But kits alone won't solve the opioid crisis, said David Rust, who leads the Community Mental Health Action Plan, a provincial initiative to improve mental health services. 

"A naloxone kit is the very last attempt to rescue someone from that place of the worst risks of drug addiction or drug use," said Rust. 

He emphasized the importance of drug education as a prevention tool. 

"We don't want to wait for that crisis," said Rust. "Build prevention into the curriculum from day one. That includes conversations about drugs, tobacco, cannabis, and everything else that they'll make decisions about in their lifetime."  

Canadians aged 15 to 24 represent the group with the fastest growing rate of hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning over the last decade, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

About the Author

Josee St-Onge

Journalist

Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at josee.st-onge@cbc.ca