'If You Make A Mistake With Heroin, You're Dead': A Plan To Prevent Opioid Overdoses In Schools

Dec 2, 2019
Originally published on December 2, 2019 12:38 pm

Florida schools could soon come equipped with the drug that reverses heroin overdoses.

A bill under consideration in the state Legislature would allow schools to obtain the drug naloxone, and let them train school staff members to administer it to students who they believe are suffering from overdoses.

The proposal comes as the Miami-Dade County school board has sued the manufacturers and distributors of addictive pain medications. The district claims it has had to divert resources from the classroom to offer nursing and mental health care to students and staff who’ve been affected by opioid addiction.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo proposed the bill after some local high school students approached him with the idea. A Democrat from North Miami Beach whose district includes parts of the city of Miami, Pizzo said his plan would address some of the overlooked victims of the opioid crisis: children.

“I’m a dad. I have 13-year-old identical twin boys. And I saw them this morning for 15 minutes. I’ll see them tonight for 45 minutes — maybe, if I’m lucky, an hour and a half, if they don’t think that I’m boring. But they’re at school for the majority of their days, for the majority of a week, for the majority of the year,” Pizzo said. “Anything that’s going to potentially protect my sons’ life, why wouldn’t we advocate for it?”

Pizzo said he experimented with alcohol and marijuana when he was a kid, but the stakes weren’t as high as they are for today's students.

“Maybe 30 years ago, when I was 13 years old, it was having a drink of something out of some parent’s cabinet or smoking something that I had no idea what it was,” Pizzo said. “Today is a lot different, because if you make that mistake with fentanyl, you’re dead. If you make a mistake with heroin, you’re dead.”

Pizzo modeled the legislation after a bill that passed a few years ago allowing schools to obtain epinephrine auto-injectors — better known as EpiPens — and administer them to students suffering from life-threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.

The bill language makes it optional for schools to participate. The Republican-led Legislature is less likely to approve a bill that places a requirement on schools without funding attached.

Pizzo doesn’t expect the bill to be costly to implement, though. He said it's likely schools could get naloxone free or at a low cost from manufacturers, and the training to administer it is simple.

The legislation sailed through its first stop in the Legislature, earning unanimous support in the Senate Education Committee. It would have to clear two more committees before moving on to a vote on the Senate floor.

The legislative session starts Jan. 14.

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