Naloxone kits coming to Ottawa high schools

Ottawa's largest public school board will begin stocking naloxone kits in its secondary schools in the fall, but some parents are asking why it took so long.

Parents ask why it's taken school boards so long to stock opioid antidote

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is aiming to have intranasal Naloxone kits available in its 25 high schools by the fall. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

Ottawa's largest public school board will begin stocking naloxone kits in its secondary schools in the fall, but some parents are asking why it took so long.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board confirmed this week that starting in September, intranasal naloxone kits will be on hand in 25 high schools for use by trained staff in the event of a drug overdose on school property.

"That work is being done, it's just not there yet because we have focused on the proactive pieces going into the summer months. But we anticipate that it will be ready to go in September," said Norah Marsh, the board's associate director of education.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board also plans to begin stocking naloxone nasal spray in all of its high schools, but hasn't said when. 

Police, paramedics and firefighters already carry the antidote to revive patients who've overdosed, particularly from powerful opioids such as fentanyl. Others, including some taxi drivers and parents of teenagers, have also purchased the kits in the wake of what's been characterized as an opioid crisis.

'It's just not right'

So far schools in Ottawa have not stocked the kits, although some boards outside the city have decided to take the precaution.

That's puzzled some parents, including Sean O'Leary, a Kanata father whose own daughter struggles with drug addiction.

'I don't know why they'd wait till September. What if something happens on June the 10th? It makes no sense.'- Sean O'Leary, We the Parents

"It's just not right," said O'Leary, who's now a member of a grassroots group called We the Parents. "They have EpiPens for kids that may have an allergic reaction, they have CPR training, yet if a kid overdoses they're essentially waiting for first responders to get there, and as we know, they come fast, but there's been cases in this city where they haven't made it fast enough."

O'Leary said he can't understand why local school boards won't act sooner, especially with grad season approaching.

"I don't know why they'd wait till September," he said. "What if something happens on June the 10th? It makes no sense."

Educational campaign

The OCDSB has taken a very deliberate approach, Marsh said, beginning with an ongoing educational campaign that included a series of public meetings.

"The perspective we've taken is the proactive, promotional, educational piece," Marsh said. "It's a complex issue in our community, and so we have been working with out community partners to address it."
Other school boards near Ottawa already stock Naloxone kits in their schools. (Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario)

Those partners include Ottawa Public Health, which will train members of medical emergency response teams within the schools in the use of the kits. The teams are made of teachers, administrators and other school staff who volunteer for the responsibility.

"Ottawa Public Health's mandate is to promote broader access to naloxone and we understand the importance of school boards establishing proper policies and procedures for their staff to follow," the health agency said in a statement. "We have made ourselves available to support the boards on this as needed."

No overdoses on school property

Marsh said once available, the naloxone kits will likely be kept alongside other first-aid supplies in school offices. She confirmed there have been no recent overdoses on OCDSB property.

Injectable naloxone kits are available at most Ottawa pharmacies and are free for anyone with a valid Ontario health card. Ottawa Public Health has even published a list of stores that stock the kits. The easy-to-use nasal application retails for about $150 for a two-dose kit.

O'Leary said he's aware of some principals and vice-principals in Ottawa who keep naloxone kits on hand without the express approval of the school boards.

"I don't know why the schools are so slow to react," O'Leary said. "The fentanyl crisis is now nation-wide. Why would [they] wait when what they need to do is readily available, and [takes] a moment's training?"

Both the OCDSB and OCSB say education aimed at preventing opioid overdoses will continue, both in the classroom and online. Marsh urged parents and students to check the board's website for additional resources over the summer months.

Neither of Ottawa's French-language school boards — the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario — replied to questions about whether naloxone kits will be available at their schools.