Amid growing opioid crisis, Narcan is coming to a school near you

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MICHIGAN (WJRT) (11/8/2018) - The opioid reversal drug Narcan is being added to an unlikely place: schools across Michigan.

Even in the northern community of Gaylord, a rural community that's been plagued by the opioid epidemic for some time, Narcan has been added to the first aid kits at the high school.

Teachers and staff at Gaylord High School have long focused on education and prevention in their curriculum, but now they've taken it a step further. They just want to be prepared.

"We have, you know, an increased use of opioids in our society. If someone were to come in -- direct exposure, indirect exposure -- not for us to judge, but if they need help, we want to be in a situation to help them," said Superintendent Brian Pearson.

He met with the Gaylord Community Schools Board of Education in spring 2017 to propose adding Narcan to the first aid kit at the middle schools and high school.

"We looked at it at the time, you know -- no different than an AED machine, no different than an epi pen," Pearson said.

He believes the nasal spray fits into the bigger picture of having a safe school.

"It wasn't like a situation where, gosh, we had two or three overdoses and we had no response to that," Pearson said. "It was, 'This is an epidemic.' I think one of the mistakes you can make is, when you see that there's something that could be coming, is to bury your head in the sand and not prepare for that."

Pearson acknowledges there is a problem. As a member of Up North Prevention, he hears firsthand how detrimental opioid abuse is in the idyllic rural setting of Crawford County.

"This is not an urban problem. It's not a rural problem. It's a problem in our country and our state and in all communities," Pearson said. "And you know, I think one of the biggest mistakes you can make there is say not us. It wouldn't happen here. It can. It can happen any place."

The Gaylord school board stood 100 percent behind the proposal and the Narcan was added this past school year

"There's a core team that's able to utilize it, trained on identifying what those symptoms look like in an overdose and how to administer it," Pearson said. "And again, with that team knowing if we administer and make a mistake, it's gonna be OK."

Soon after Gaylord created their Narcan policy, the state passed a law making the opioid reversal drug available to every school in Michigan. Pearson said it's not just intended to help students.

"We look at not only our student body, but we look at you know our school hosts drama events, it hosts band concerts, football games, all types of -- we rent our facility out to the public," he said. "Knowing the influx of people we have in and out of our school system, being able to increase the safety for all those visitors having that on site, we thought was a smart thing to do."

The Genesee Intermediate School District is following Gaylord's lead and offering the training to their employees.

"Another opportunity for us to have awareness and training and access potentially to a life-saving intervention," Associate Superintendent Steve Tunnicliff said. "That's the way we viewed it."

The local schools also want to be prepared.

"Any emergency is a terrible thing," Tunnicliff said. "How the emergency came to us really isn't a question at that point. It's what we potentially could do."

Sam Jawhari is grateful there's now better access to the life-saving tool, which he says can give an addict a second chance, hopefully encourage them to break the addiction and get back to their life.

"I don't think anyone really wants to be an addict. I don't see anybody that wants to live that lifestyle," he said. "They do want help."

He hopes a second chance at life after getting Narcan is the wake-up call an addict needs to turn around their life.

His 17-year-old daughter, Briona, never got that second chance. The high school senior passed away in February 2011 after a two-year battle with addiction.

"When I went upstairs, she was in front of the door. I couldn't break the door down," Jawhari said. "It was like, I knew she was in trouble. I got in, I'm telling my wife please call 911. I finally get through the door and she's still got the needle in her arm, she's blue, just battled. She was gone."

Jawhari's pain fueled his fight to protect other students just like her. He joined the Genesee County sheriff's Chasing the Dragon program, warning high schoolers of the dangers of addiction

"I didn't want her to be just remembered as an addict," Jawhari said. "I wanted her to be remembered as how many people did she save from her tragedy. So that was a big thing. I picked up this torch. It wasn't for me, it was for her, because I knew who she was."

The past eight years have not been easy for his family, but Jawhari said it's comforting to see society's view of addicts begin to soften so more lives can be saved.

"These people aren't deadbeats," he said. "These are good kids, good parents, good whatever that this is happening to. These are good homes that this is happening in. They're not losers. So they needed someone to battle for them and break the stigma."

No one with the Genesee Intermediate School District or Gaylord Public Schools has used Narcan yet. But as the opioid epidemic continues to take more victims, Pearson said they're prepared for the worst.

"You cannot 100 percent prevent that a situation isn't going to happen," he said. "And when that happens, you can save a life, give somebody a second chance or somebody that had accidental exposure if we can save their life, I want to be able to do that."