Harrisburg, PA — Governor Tom Wolf today joined Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera, Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy and Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis to announce support for the use of the life-saving drug antidote naloxone at schools across the commonwealth. Naloxone is administered to individuals suffering from an opioid overdose, such as heroin, and reverses the effects of the ingested drug.
“Across the country and in Pennsylvania, the rate of deadly heroin and prescription opioids overdoses is unprecedented,” Governor Wolf said. “In light of this tragic fact, we would encourage any person or entity in a position to help individuals who are vulnerable to an overdose to obtain naloxone.”
“Communities across the commonwealth are grappling with the realities of drug use, and as public stewards it is our responsibility to encourage the use of all the life-saving measures at our disposal,” said Secretary Rivera. “By allowing the trained medical professionals at our schools to be equipped with this critical tool, we will effectively give overdosing individuals a second chance at life, a chance that was not previously made available to them in all cases.”
In a letter sent to superintendents of all 500 school districts, the secretaries emphasized commonwealth schools’ legal ability to store and administer the live-saving medication in accordance with Act 139, which was passed into law in 2014.
“Act 139 permits an individual in a position to assist a person at risk of opiod overdose to obtain and administer naloxone. Further, school nurses are licensed medical professions who are able to provide nursing services to a school in accordance with protocols and procedures established by the district, and the limits of their nursing licenses,” the secretaries stated in the letter.
Responding to a request from Yough School District in Herminie, PA, to stock the medicine, the secretaries determined that their permission was not needed. Additionally, under Act 139, the General Assembly declared it lawful to assist an individual at risk of opioid overdose by administering naloxone. The medication, which may be inhaled or injected works within minutes, and was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971.
“Opioid overdose is the leading public health problem in Pennsylvania and tragically many of the victims are young people,” said Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy. “Providing access to naloxone to schools may prevent an unnecessary loss of life.”
“Pennsylvania state police and local police have already saved more than 300 lives with the use of naloxone,” said Secretary Tennis. “But we need to go further; anyone who might be in a position to encounter opioid overdose, from college dorm resident advisors to school nurses, should carry this lifesaving antidote.”
The secretaries noted that in rural areas it may take longer for emergency first responders to reach patients. Thus, the departments encouraged all school districts and school boards to consider stocking the medication on school grounds.
The Departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs have online training available for individuals who will administer naloxone at schools.
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Dear District Superintendent,
We have recently received correspondence directed to the Departments of Health, Education, and Drug and Alcohol Programs (“the Departments”), requesting permission for school districts to be able to store and administer the opioid overdose antidote medication, naloxone. Across the country and in Pennsylvania, the rate of deadly heroin and prescription opioids overdoses is unprecedented. In light of this tragic fact, we would encourage any person or entity in a position to help individuals who are vulnerable to an overdose to obtain naloxone.
As you may be aware, the General Assembly recently passed Act 139 of 2014 (“Act 139”) into law. Act 139 permits an individual in a position to assist a person at risk of opioid overdose to obtain and administer naloxone. Further, school nurses are licensed medical professionals who are able to provide nursing services to a school in accordance with protocols and procedures established by the district, and the limits of their nursing licenses. The permission that was recently requested by districts is, therefore, unnecessary. However, if any district is in need of direction in moving forward with acquisition or administration of naloxone, or any other assistance the Departments can render in this regard, we stand willing to help.
Many school districts across the state have equipped their personnel with this life-saving medication. While not required, these actions demonstrate a significant – and commendable – commitment to the health and well-being of students and all Pennsylvanians.
Pedro A. Rivera,
Secretary of the Department of Education
Dr. Karen Murphy,
Secretary of the Department of Health
Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs