The fentanyl overdose of a 13-year-old at the Sports and Medical Science Academy in Hartford last week is still sending shockwaves through the state.
So now, schools are scrambling to get Narcan, along with training staff on how to administer it. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is an opioid reversal drug used in emergency situations.
But it's more than dealing with just the emergency of fentanyl in schools; lawmakers are trying to draft up legislation to help work on some of the root causes that can lead to these tragic situations.
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NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with State Representative Liz Linehan, a Democrat from Cheshire, about the issue.
Mike: "Hearing a 13-year-old died from a drug overdose, then 40 bags of fentanyl found in the school, for those of us who have kids that took our breath away. And this is tragic. But can legislation actually make a difference here? Do you think?"
Linehan: "One-hundred percent it can, we just have to look at how we're doing it and do it right. So there's two sides of the spectrum, Mike. There is the need for immediate intervention and life saving interventions like Narcan, like you mentioned, but there's also the need to stop addictions before they start. And that is what we're looking at with the adolescent SBIRT program, which is the bill that I'm writing now. It would provide funding to have every single school district adequately trained in adolescent SBIRT, which is adolescent Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. And essentially, what it does is it prepares adults who have relationships with kids to be able to step in, intervene and refer them to the right place for treatment, if they suspect that they are doing drugs. Or if a child comes to them and says that they need help, right, we're trying to make sure that we don't break that relationship that a trusted adult has with the child. And this is a program that's been in existence for quite some time. And there's data surrounding it that says it is extremely powerful and useful."
Mike: "So this is where a music teacher could step in, or a scout leader or somebody in their lives other than their parents if they spot something that maybe the parents are missing?"
Linehan: "Right. And it's not just about teachers, like we're talking about in school because of the tragedy that happened. But this is about any of our community partners, coaches, it could be Boys and Girls Clubs. Anyone who really works with children should be trained in adolescent SBIRT. This is not something that we're going to be mandating because we are asking a lot of our teachers now, especially during COVID, but I do know that there are so many teachers who are interested in taking this program. It's actually something I've done before in my district, Mike, so I know that there's a hunger for this, and that people are really interested in it. We're going to fund it and make it happen."
Mike: "Yeah, I was going to say, so do you think this would be a pilot program in your estimation? Or would this be a budget line item permanently."
Linehan: "So what we're going to do essentially, is I've already done the pilot program, and I did it in my district in 2017 and 2018. And what I found was if I can fund a train-the-trainer model, which means that we will take a one-time funding source, and we will go ahead and we will train enough people who are trained to train others, and we bring it into school districts, local health districts, community partners, and we have these trainers. Then what we can do is go into schools and other community partners and train them for only $5 per participant. So while we will fund the training of all these people, and getting everybody started, the ongoing funding is something that doesn't necessarily need to be a budget line item."
Mike: "So both Democrats and Republicans are working on ideas now to address a mental health crisis in our state. And many times, people who are in crisis can turn to drugs to ease their pain with this legislation to address both issues, or would they be separate bills?"
Linehan: "They're going to be separate bills, but they will work with each other. I have been tapped by the speaker to put together the House legislation along with Representative Tammy Exum, and we've been working across the aisle and putting together really great mental health legislation that does touch on substance abuse, we need to look at kids who are in trauma, and we are going to try to get to them where they live before it comes to substance abuse or before it comes to a real crisis situation. And we're going to continue to do that. But in fact, these will be two separate pieces of legislation."
Mike: "How complicated all of this can be. There are so many social issues, as well, that are tied to drug use, kids having enough enough activities, supervision after school, affordable childcare, so single parents who work have to know where their kids are and that they're safe while they're at work. Do either of these plans get a chance to address any of that?"
Linehan: "Yeah, you know, we're looking into that right now. And so my job as Chair of the Committee on Children is to really collect the data to see where the most help is needed, and that's where we're going to put all of our energy. We want to make sure that what we do is needed, that we can fund it, which I really believe that we can, the state is in a wonderful position to do these important things. And then we have to make sure that what we do is evidence-based and that it works. And so that does take a little bit of digging and finding the proper tools to use but I think we're well on our way."