Fewer Alabama public high schools are keeping the opioid-countering drug naloxone on hand, even as safety concerns due to fentanyl are on the rise.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are being trafficked into the United States, often from foreign countries, and mixed into other drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine.

Drug traffickers do this because fentanyl is cheap, potent and easy to cut with other substances.

But just two milligrams of fentanyl can be potentially lethal. 

Some people who take pills or use other drugs laced with fentanyl don’t know that fentanyl is present.

In October 2022, 1819 News investigated the prominence of opioid overdoses in Alabama. 1819 News found that opioid overdose deaths rose sharply in 2016, according to the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council. The numbers trended downward for the next four years until sharply increasing again in 2020. Overdoses hit an all-time high in March 2021, reaching 474.

According to a report specific to Jefferson County, preliminary evidence suggests at least 417 people died from overdoses in the county in 2022. At least 356 were due to opioids, most of which involved fentanyl. 

Also, in 2022, a student passed away in the cafeteria of Selma High School. A toxicology report confirmed that he had hydrocodone and fentanyl in his system. 

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is used to reverse the effect of opioids to counter a potential overdose. The Alabama state health officer issued a standing order for naloxone in 2017. The Alabama Department of Education (ADE) and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) launched a program to make naloxone available in 2019. However, stocking the drug isn’t mandatory for public schools.

According to ADE’s director of communications Michael Sibley, nearly 90% of high schools reported stocking Narcan last year. Now, that number is down to 75%.

Most schools carrying Narcan received the drug from a source other than the ADPH, with 33% purchasing their own Narcan and 44% receiving Narcan via donations. 

However, high schools aren’t the only public schools with Narcan on hand. Over 30% of public elementary schools in the state and 53% of public middle schools stock the drug.

A spokeswoman with Selma City Schools told 1819 News that Selma High School does have Narcan on hand, and the drug was used during last November’s incident.

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