Schools in Iowa are stocking up on naloxone

IOWA (KCRG) – Schools across Iowa are stocking up on naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses and often referred to by the brand name Narcan. It’s part of an expanding state program to combat a surge in Iowa’s opioid-related deaths.

Funded by a two-year, $18 million grant, this state program was previously available to organizations and businesses, but is now expanding to offer school districts free naloxone nasal spray kits.

State data states that Iowa is seeing an increase in opioid-related deaths with 258 opioid-related deaths in 2021. That’s an increase from 213 deaths in 2020. Data from the CDC also shows an upward trend in deaths nationwide, with opioid overdose deaths increasing from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

Data from the National Institute on Substance Abuse takes a closer look at people aged 15 to 24 and shows an increase in deaths from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. In 2010, 229 people in this age group died as a result of synthetic opioids. In 2020, that number rose to 5,393.

To date, more than a dozen schools have applied to participate in this program and the list is growing. But some of those districts say they see no immediate need for Narcan. But they want to make sure they’re prepared, just in case. Cathy Thalkan is a school nurse in the Keota Community School District. “I’ve seen Narcan available through the Iowa Department of Health,” says Thalkan, “we have it, and if we don’t need it, that’s fine. I hope we never have to use it.”

Ben Miskle, clinical assistant professor at the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, and Heidi Wood, pharmacist at UIHC, have a personal mission to educate school nurses about the possibility of using naloxone in public schools. They hold sessions to teach how districts can benefit from the program and why having it ready is an important medicine. “We don’t plan for anything bad to happen, but if it does we want to be prepared, so this isn’t necessarily just for students. This is for visitors to the school. It could be anyone,” says Miskle.

Her sessions include information on how to recognize key signs that someone is overdosing, common myths about naloxone, and why harm reduction is an important approach. “Really break that stigma, you know this is the first step, but normalize this and realize that this is a part of life that many may be going through,” says Wood. And they hope to expand their work by reaching out to UI College of Pharmacy students and alumni across Iowa to offer sessions to any district that wants to learn more.

The naloxone application form for districts interested in applying can be found here. Districts interested in meetings may contact Miskle at [email protected] and/or Wood at [email protected]