Opioid abuse poised to trickle- down into OC schools
(Calif.) With the opioid epidemic spiking in Orange County’s tony beach communities, health officials say that school districts should be prepared for when the drug abuse problems begin to trickle down into the high schools.
Emergency room visits in the county have more than doubled over the last decade while the rate of opioid overdose is among the highest statewide, according to a report released last week by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Overdoses linked to prescription opioids including Oxycontin, Vicodin and morphine were reported to be concentrated in more affluent parts of the county and among older people, while heroin overdoses were more common in the central and northern areas, as well as among younger people.
Pamela Kahn, health and wellness coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education, said that while none of the 27 districts in her county have reported any opioid-related overdoses, she expects that should change as the number of opioid related emergencies grows in neighborhoods surrounding the classroom.
“I haven’t heard from any of the nurses that there have been any specific cases of students overdosing on opioids at school–it’s not something that we’ve had to confront yet,” Kahn, who also is president elect for California School Nurses Association, said in an interview. “It’s interesting that the issue hasn’t trickled down into schools here yet, and while I’m grateful, it doesn’t make me optimistic because things like this will inevitably drift downward.”
More than 183,000 people in the U.S. have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids in the past 16 years, while fatal overdoses involving heroin tripled between 2010 and 2015, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found that overdose deaths caused by opioids like carfentanil and fentanyl–which is 50 times stronger than pure heroin–increased nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Because they’re so strong and inexpensive compared to other opioids, these synthetic opioids have spawned strings of mass overdoses in cities mainly throughout the eastern half of the U.S. Just last year, first responders in Cincinnati faced 174 overdoses in six days. Paramedics in Louisville responded to 151 overdoses over four days; and reports of opioid overdoses in Huntington, W. Va. spiked to 28 cases in just five hours last August.
According to the CDC, opioids killed more than 7,000 people between the ages of 15 and 29 in 2015–accounting for more than 20 percent of the total number of opioid-related deaths that year.
From Rhode Island to California, lawmakers have moved to allow schools to begin stocking up on naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug.
In California, only the rural Plumas County has schools that keep the antidote in the nurse’s office, Kahn said.
Despite the steep increase in opioid-related overdoses in Orange County, Kahn said that schools haven’t opted to stock the drug–mostly because there hasn’t yet been a need. The fact that emergency response services are so readily available for the primarily urban and suburban schools has been another factor.
But she said that districts are prepared to stock the antidote once the need arises
“We have quick response to emergency services, which isn’t the case in the more rural districts in the state, and we’ve got resources at the state level for districts should they find themselves ready to use them,” Kahn explained. “So we are ready, but I’m hoping it’s a crisis we won’t have to face.”
A spokesperson for the county said that preventitive measures are being put in place that focus on prescription drug abuse awareness and prevention education for students and families.
Statewide data shows that the rate of opioid overdoses in Orange County is nearly triple that of Los Angeles County, and higher than any county in California with a population of one million or more people.
The OC Health Care Agency report found that residents between the ages of 18 and 34 years were most likely to go to the emergency room for an opioid overdose. Cities along the coastal and southern regions of Orange County–including Laguna Beach, Dana Point, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach–tended to have higher rates of emergency visits and deaths due to opioid overdose than other cities.
County supervisors said the findings were troubling, and called in a prepared statement for further cooperation among local officials, community leaders and nonprofits to help reduce the misuse and abuse of opioids among residents.