In the US, young people already carry Narcan in their backpacks to prevent drug overdoses
Every morning, before leaving home to go to school, Jackson Danzing, 17, makes sure he has his books, homework, lunch... and an antidote which can revive an overdose victim. The use of Narcan —the trade name for naloxone—, It is increasingly common among adolescents in the United States, a country devastated by an opioid crisis, including fentanyl, a drug up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
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"Everyone has a friend or acquaintance who has used drugs. Imagine a scenario in which you find one of your friends with a potential overdose and you don't know what to do," says Jackson, who with his partner Marin Peale has organized courses training on the use of Narcan for 350 students.
In Arlington, near the capital Washington, where Jackson goes to school, Police intervened in seven overdoses last year in public schools. One student even died. Between March 2022 and the same month of this year, there were 110,000 overdose-related deaths in the United States, two-thirds of them due to fentanyl use, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Among adolescents, Overdose deaths skyrocketed 94% from 2019 to 2020, indicates the CDC, which attributes this phenomenon to the greater "availability of illegally produced synthetic fentanyl." However, the increasing availability of naloxone may also be controversial: some parents, as Arlington students reported, They believe that this drug trivializes, or even justifies, the use of hard drugs.
Across the country, local authorities have adopted different policies regarding opioids. In Portland, Oregon's emblematic progressive city, the decision was made to reduce penalties for drug use. So much so that open-air fairs for illegal products began to emerge, leading to an increase in overdoses.
Some states have gone in the opposite direction, tightening their drug laws. As an example, three students suffered overdoses at the beginning of the year in Tennessee - two of them died and the third was accused of the murder of his two classmates.
But overall, "I see support for naloxone across the political spectrum. (...) and I think it is a victory in terms of public health," argues Keith Humphreys, a researcher at Stanford University.
In Arlington, as throughout Virginia, drug prohibition remains in effect. And students who bring naloxone to school must have previously received training in its use and obtained parental approval, explains Darrell Sampson, director of student services for the city's public schools.
"In schools we have always had to deal with drugs. But none of these substances were as cheap to produce, as lethal even in small doses and as addictive as opioids and fentanyl," he declared.
To Keith Humphreys, increasing access to Narcan is only part of the solution to the severity of the crisis. In his opinion, authorities should dedicate more public funds to the mental health of young people, to help them manage their emotions and establish healthier relationships. As for naloxone, it can be used in case of overdose, but not to treat addiction problems.
"It would be a mistake to think that by reducing the number of overdose deaths we will have made great progress. It is an extremely modest ambition," he declared.
In order to avoid problems, Jackson Danzig and Marin Peale started carrying naloxone with them last year, before their school gave them official permission to do so. A year later, Narcan spray is part of his daily routine. "No matter what class you're in, there's always a box and I always carry one with me. So I'm always prepared," Marin concludes.
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