LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles public schools will stock campuses with the overdose reversal drug naloxone in the aftermath of a student's death at Bernstein High School, putting the nation's second-largest school system on the leading edge of a strategy increasingly favored by public health experts.
The move, which will affect some 1,400 elementary, middle and high schools, is part of the district's newly expanded anti-drug strategy, quickly assembled in response to student overdoses. Officials on Thursday said nine students have overdosed across the district in recent weeks, including seven linked to the Bernstein campus and Hollywood High School. The response plans also will include expanded parent outreach and peer counseling.
The death of 15-year-old Melanie Ramos, who died in a school bathroom last week after ingesting a pill that she bought from another student, has left the campus community reeling and touched off concern among parents throughout the 430,000-student district. The pill contained fentanyl, an opioid that is deadly in small doses.
Naloxone is highly effective at reversing opioid overdoses if administered quickly by a nasal spray or injection.
L.A. schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that providing naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is a matter of saving lives, and that the medication can be delivered with speed and relative ease.
"We have an urgent crisis on our hands," Carvalho said. "Research shows that the availability of naloxone along with overdose education is effective at decreasing overdoses and death — and will save lives. We will do everything in our power to ensure that not another student in our community is a victim to the growing opioid epidemic."
Candidates for training would include school nurses and school police — but the scope would likely be wider. Carvalho cited the example of an assistant principal who had been a military medic.
"He can do it. He has the training," Carvalho said in an interview. "I think we've maintained a pretty myopic view of who can do this. The training is really not that difficult."
Even older students would have the potential to be trained, but, "I'm not saying that we're going to do that here. But the training is not complex and we can significantly expand the amount of individuals who can do this in a protective way."
The highest priority would be getting the medication to high schools, followed by middle schools.