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Health experts: Seventh grader’s overdose death shows need for naloxone in schools

A 13-year-old Hartford student’s death by suspected fentanyl overdose is sparking discussions about improving drug prevention and intervention in schools.

Dr. Craig Allen, who specializes in addiction medicine with Hartford HealthCare, said that opioid drugs like fentanyl are common and that it’s important to educate everyone on overdose symptoms and how to use naloxone.

“It’s everywhere and it’s not surprising to see our kids get some exposure to it,” said Allen.

The seventh grader at Sport and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford was found unconscious on campus last week. Hartford Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and found evidence of fentanyl. Two other students complained of dizziness, and all three students were transported to Connecticut Children’s medical center. Two were later released, but the unconscious student died at the center on Saturday.

Police said the school didn’t have any naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose.

“Naloxone can revive someone. We always say ‘call 911 and then use naloxone.’ It will be important to have this in school systems as it is important to have this really everywhere,” Allen said.

Susan Logan of the state Department of Public Health said overdose deaths continue to be rare among kids this young. She cautioned that overdoses will continue to happen and said reversal medications can help.

“So, I believe that we recommend that all schools carry naloxone, and multiple doses of naloxone, because fentanyl, you need multiple doses to combat that,” Logan said.

Hartford police issued a warning last week that recently tested street fentanyl is deadly to anyone coming in contact with it, as it is 50 times more potent than heroin and can be absorbed in the skin.

“This drug is enormously powerful,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. “It is poisonous and it’s showing up more and more often, not just here, but in communities across the state and in communities across the country.”

Bronin called the seventh grader’s death tragic.

“It’s also important that we take this as an opportunity to assess everything we do to create awareness and education about the risks of fentanyl and dangerous drugs more broadly, that we encourage all families and all parents to have those difficult but incredibly important conversations,” he said.

Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, said in a statement on Saturday that the school, the district’s emotional support system and grief counseling will be available this week to help students, parents and school staff both in person and virtually.

“I extend my heart and offer my deepest condolences to the student’s family, friends and loved ones for their loss. I ask that everyone keep the family, friends and the entire school community at SMSA in their thoughts and prayers,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

There is no state law that requires schools to have naloxone. State law does allow any person to administer overdose antidotes like naloxone without fear of criminal or civil liability, but the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association found that Connecticut requires only colleges and universities to have the antidote on campus.

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.

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