The ease of opening a medicine cabinet and the highly addictive qualities of some of the medicines found within has made our students vulnerable to the well-publicized opioid addiction epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Once it becomes difficult to obtain more pain killers, many turn to heroin as a cheaper, yet deadlier alternative. Unfortunately, our students are not immune to this problem. With this in mind, Governor Wolf has encouraged districts across the Commonwealth to maintain a supply of Naloxone and train professionals to administer it in life threatening situations. Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is an overdose reversal antidote that can save lives by immediately restoring breathing to a victim of an opioid overdose. Now, Pennsylvania districts are eligible to receive a free carton of Narcan nasal spray. As such, districts may incorporate this into their school emergency preparedness and response plan, thereby increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes.
The drug maker of Narcan, through a partnership with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, has offered its antidote drug free to public high school across the country. Many states, however, have been apprehensive to implement this program because they do not yet have rules that will permit school personnel to administer the drug in a dire situation, without facing the fear of liability from parents or guardians. This concern would not seem to be a problem in Pennsylvania because on September 18, 2015, a letter that was sent out to all 500 school districts on behalf of the Secretaries of Education, Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs claimed that all Commonwealth districts have the authority under Act 139 of 2014 to store and administer Naloxone.
Despite this claim by state officials, some districts are still hesitant to proceed. Act 139 clearly gives immunity from liability in the administration of this drug to properly trained first responders and medical professionals; however, it does not specifically state that district entities are granted it as well. The September 18 letter attempted to also extend this protection to districts by stating, “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.” Additionally, the Act states that “a person . . . who, acting in good faith and with reasonable care” will be immune from civil, criminal, or professional licensure liability. Reasonable care, it continues, can be presumed if the person received proper training and instructional materials, as well as if they promptly sought additional medical assistance after administering Naloxone. While district officials are not explicitly guaranteed the protection that others are awarded under the Act, they can find some comfort in the fact that both the Statutory Construction Act and the Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act defines “person” to include government entities. This would appear to cover district officials as well as nurses, as long as they are appropriately trained.
With assurances from several State agencies, some Pennsylvania districts have already begun to receive and stock Narcan in their nurses’ offices. Should you decide to similarly store and administer this drug, it is highly advised to first develop procedures to identify and train appropriate personnel in the proper methods of doing so. Such procedures should specify that the school nurse is the licensed medical professional who will supervise the administration of Naloxone in each building. Furthermore, it is crucial that each district be able to properly secure the doses and maintain thorough records of any incident where it is used. Since this is a relatively new procedure and drug that does present some legal concerns, contact our School Group to help assist you in developing these procedures and ensure that you are in compliance with the law.