By Brenda Flanagan
“I’ve had family members need this so I was more than happy to volunteer from my school,” said Nancy Smith.
Smith joined other Ocean County school nurses and counselors on line for free boxes of Narcan spray, used to reverse opioid overdoses. The drug epidemic now looms over New Jersey classrooms, reportedly with ODs in Ocean and Camden County high schools.
An addiction recovery specialist saw this at one school.
“A kid had stumbled into the parking lot and overdosed right in front of us. We called the prosecutor and he had a police officer and an ambulance out right away,” said John Brogan, chief recovery specialist at the Malvern Institute.
“There now are schools that are suffering with students that have overdosed. And it’s sad that that has happened. I think that this is just a safe precaution so the nurses and the SACs within the school system have it and they don’t have to wait for the police or the EMTs or paramedics to arrive,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.
Ocean’s the first New Jersey county to train and equip school nurses with Narcan. They also learned county overdose deaths have spiked at 180 so far this year — compared to 118 all of last year. OD reversals with Narcan have soared — to 445 so far this year — and may almost double last year’s 272. Nurse Samantha Hvidding’s neighbor called in a panic about her son.
“And she said, ‘Come right away!’ And he had overdosed on the couch. There was a needle on the table and a spoon on the couch and five empty wax folds. Fortunately, he lived,” she said.
Prosecutor Coronato says investigators find 72 percent of heroin packets have been cut with fentanyl — a synthetic drug that requires multiple shots of Narcan to reverse an OD. So the nurses received double doses of Narcan.
“Fentanyl’s so powerful, so deadly, and about 35 to 40 different types of fentanyl. So the bottom line is that we need to make sure they have the proper tools to save a life,” Coronato said.
Ocean County’s also pushing its Recovery Coach program. These coaches meet overdose patients right in the hospital and help them find an appropriate treatment path.
“Just getting clean is not enough. It’s how you stay clean, which is what matters,” said Angela Cicchino.
Recovery specialist Cicchino’s been clean for five years. She says the landscape for addicts is even more grim, lately.
“The fentanyl is taking people out. We’re losing people at a rapid pace and I don’t think that was going on back when I was using,” she said.
How does Smith feel now that she’s gotten the Narcan?
“Safer,” she said.
A company called Adapt Pharma’s donating the Narcan and units will be replaced for free, as they’re used. Nurses hope they’ll never have to.