Illinois Schools to Have Naloxone, Heroin Overdose Antidote


The Illinois General Assembly has voted to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill aimed at fighting heroin and opiate addiction this month, a law that opened the door for schools to add naloxone, an antidote for drug overdoses, to school clinic medicine cabinets.

Beth Mattey, president of the National Association of School Nurses, who support giving nurses naloxone as part of their emergency response plans and drug prevention protocols, says the legislation is going to save lives.

Lauren Zumbach of The Chicago Tribune writes that Illinois lawmakers’ rescue of the bill authorizes nurses to administer the drug to anyone suffering from an opioid overdose in much the same way an epinephrine auto-injector can treat a student who is experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

Some school districts will not yet be stocking naloxone. Jim McKay, superintendent of Community High School District 117, says his district already has a plan in place that relies on police and paramedics who also carry the antidote. His district will take another look at the decision in the future.

Officials at Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 said they were just beginning to consider stocking naloxone.

“We have a lot of questions. The issue is a scary issue, but not one we’re seeing much of,” District 121 superintendent John Ahlgrim said. “The question is whether people are seeing it to the point schools would feel like this is something we want to prepare for.”

None of the four districts in Lake County recall ever dealing with an overdose on school grounds. They realize it could happen, however. Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim and Chelsea Laliberte, founder of Live4Lali, an organization raising awareness about and access to naloxone, say it is imperative that school systems do not wait for an overdose to occur before considering keeping a supply of the antidote on hand.

On the other hand, College of Lake County spokeswoman Evelyn Schiele said there had been two students who suffered overdoses while on campus in the past year and a half. The colleges health center and campus police carry naloxone.

The Illinois Youth Survey of 2014 found that 1% of Lake County’s sophomores and seniors said they had used heroin in the past year and 3% of sophomores and 4% of seniors acknowledged they had used prescription painkillers. Laliberte states that though the numbers are small, students are beginning to use drugs at younger ages, especially painkillers. She explains that Alex, her brother, died of an overdose in 2008.

Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, said Illinois school nurses were possibly already using naloxone because of an existing law in place to prevent overdoses. But DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen, who agrees that districts should stock the antidote, said some worried about liability before there was legislation in place that said nurses could administer the drug to students. 

In Pennsylvania, teenagers have died from heroin overdoses for years, and now even younger children are falling prey to the drug. This state, too, is making naloxone part of schools’ first aid kit. On Friday, Governor Tom Wolf said he agrees and that he would like to see the heroin antidote in all schools across the state, reports WPXI-TV.

Five states have adopted laws on the use of naloxone in schools. Rhode Island is one of those states, which now requires the antidote be available in all state middle, junior high, and high schools. Some states allow or highly recommend that schools buy the antidote, and others already have it in school clinics.