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Iowa schools add naloxone to medical emergency tool kits

The state legislature passed a law last year to help school districts and first responders have access to the overdose drug


Many Iowa schools have adopted policies and procedures to add naloxone to their tool kit, said Sandy Byard, Cedar Rapids schools health services coordinator.

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

By Grace King
The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — An Iowa law passed last year allows schools to stock and administer the lifesaving medication naloxone to combat the effects of an opioid overdose.

Since then, many Iowa schools have adopted policies and procedures to add naloxone — brand name Narcan — to their tool kit, said Sandy Byard, Cedar Rapids schools health services coordinator.

“Absolutely we want to have it to help students, staff or family members who have a medical emergency in our schools,” Byard said.

Naloxone is a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration that quickly reverses an overdose by blocking the effects of opioids. It can restore normal breathing within two to three minutes in a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose.

Last May, the Iowa Legislature passed a new law — House File 2573 — allowing school districts to receive prescriptions for Narcan and creating a fund to cover the cost.

The law also established an Opioid Antagonist Medication Fund to ensure first responders have access to naloxone and other potentially lifesaving medications to reverse opioid overdoses.

In 2021, Iowa saw 479 fatal opioid overdoses, a 12 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A suspected overdose can look like unresponsiveness, with slow or shallow breathing, drowsiness and confusion, nausea, vomiting or a slow heartbeat.

Fifty school nurses and personnel have been trained in Cedar Rapids schools to administer naloxone — at least one person in every building.

Narcan is included in an emergency response kit at each school. Byard compared naloxone to water. If administered to someone experiencing an opioid overdose, it will reverse the effects. Otherwise, it’s completely harmless, she said.

“To have it out of the hospital setting and out to the public where anybody can have it, that’s truly amazing,” Byard said.

Iowa City and Des Moines schools also began stocking Narcan last year.

Byard said Cedar Rapids schools’ emergency response teams can get called several times a week in an individual school.

In addition to naloxone, Cedar Rapids schools’ emergency response kits include automated external defibrillators and epinephrine, among other items.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District also is working toward becoming Project Adam certified by the end of the school year. Project Adam is a national organization that helps schools and communities to establish a plan to respond to sudden cardiac arrest.

This includes making automated external defibrillators readily available. The portable electronic devices automatically diagnose potentially life-threatening heart rhythms and decide whether a shock is needed. If necessary, they then deliver a shock to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Byard said the coronavirus pandemic helped “bring to light the important role school nurses play in education.” Nurses were “relied on heavily” to manage quarantine and isolation procedures if there was a COVID-19 exposure, she said.

“School nurses are the only medical experts in a school,” Byard said. “We are writing health plans for students with seizure disorders, diabetes or other health complications and making sure everyone knows the protocols.

“We provide a lot of primary care services such as getting kids free glasses, setting up (medical) appointments and finding transportation. We’re working with community providers to reduce health-related barriers to learning.”


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