DCPS Puts Narcan in Schools to Combat Opioid Crisis
Credits: Georgia Murphy
At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, DCPS required Walls and other schools to have the emergency overdose medication Narcan on-premises in an effort to combat the growing opioid crisis.
“Having [Narcan] in our school health suites speaks to our readiness to support and administer treatment to our students who are experiencing a suspected opioid overdose,” said DCPS press secretary Enrique Gutierrez.
Narcan is the brand-name form of naloxone, a medication that reverses the fatal effects of an opioid overdose. It’s a pocket-sized nasal spray that can be simply administered to an overdosing patient while they are unconscious. Narcan only postpones the adverse effects of an overdose, meaning the patient will need additional professional medical care following administration.
Though Narcan is now available, Mr. Gutierrez said that there have been no reported incidents at any D.C. public school that required the administration of Narcan since the DCPS health initiative was introduced.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the District of Columbia has the second-highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country. In the past four years, 90 percent of adolescent overdose deaths have been the result of opioid overdose, as opposed to other kinds of drug overdoses.
Young people in particular are at high risk. “Some of the youth are being targeted by the producers of these illegal and synthetic drugs,” said Demetrius Jones, a Harm Reduction Specialist Trainer who works specifically to educate Washingtonians on the opioid crisis. Now, drug traffickers are “using social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to solicit teens,” he said.
This trend of targeting youth with opioids was part of the rationale behind putting Narcan in schools. “It was critical for DCPS to be realistic about our young people being included in the [the opioid epidemic],” Mr. Gutierrez said.
The lingering impacts of the pandemic may also be relevant to the rise of opioid usage. “[Young people have] been affected by the global health emergency in ways we can’t begin to fathom,” Mr. Gutierrez added.
SWW students represent a varied range of Narcan and opioid crisis knowledge. Awnya Gallagher (‘26) said she doesn’t “know a lot about the opioid crisis.”
Others, such as Tara Roberts (‘25), said they learned about it online and from friends. “I think that [education about Narcan] is especially important in high school where so many people are experimenting with everything and anything. Some might not know their limits,” she said.
This gap in education is something Comfort Laosebikan, the SWW nurse, would like to close: “We have so many [classes] that have these seminars about just sexual behaviors … we can do [this] with drugs, too.”
As of 2023, the Department of Behavioral Health provides access to Narcan and Naloxone training in every ward. Ms. Laosebikan said students and staff can access information and free medication at dbh.dc.gov/page/where-can-iget-naloxone-dc.
“We should make sure that ... students [are] being responsible,” she said. Joey Trail (‘25) said they understand the risks of Narcan access. “I think it has the potential to make some people feel at ease while doing drugs.”
Roberts agreed, but added, “I feel like people are going to do [drugs] anyway. Access is a preventative measure for an already existing problem.”
Education is another such preventative measure. “Everyone has friends outside of school that could be affected. It’s important out-and-about to know what to do if you see someone overdosing,” Trail said.
Mr. Guterriez agreed that the best way for schools to combat the opioid epidemic is Narcan and overdose education. “The goal is to empower students to become health-literate individuals who have the capacity to obtain, interpret, understand, and apply that information to do what’s best for their health.”