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31 May 2017

Naloxone kits now in rural eastern Ontario English schools

Ottawa's English school boards working on anti-opioid overdose plans of their own

By Andrew Foote

Around 150 English schools just outside the City of Ottawa now have naloxone kits in their offices and staff trained to use them, which board officials say is a proactive move to prevent a potential fentanyl crisis in their communities.

On Tuesday, more than 100 staff members from all 50 schools in the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario gathered in Cornwall, Ont., and Kemptville, Ont., for 30-minute training sessions on how to use naloxone nasal spray.

Naloxone is an antidote that can reverse the harmful effects of an opioid overdose and save someone's life. 

"It's literally putting the medication in someone's nose and pulling a plunger, then moving them into a recovery position," said William Gartland, the board's director of education, who took the training on Tuesday.

'Like having another tool in your first aid kit'

Two months ago the two public health agencies that cover the same area as their schools approached their board to share their concerns about opioids, including the powerful painkiller fentanyl, in rural eastern Ontario, Gartland said. 

The board said Tuesday it purchased naloxone kits for every school, but Gartland said he hopes they never have to use them. 

"I have great staff in our schools here and in our board office that are ready to respond on a daily basis if somebody goes into a crisis. That could be somebody who's injured on a football field to someone [who] has an allergic reaction," Gartland said.

"Our staff are quite comfortable in terms of responding. That's a responsibility for educators … [the kits are] like having another tool in your first aid kit."

In fact, the kits will stay in the main office of each of their schools, right beside the first aid kits, ready for any trained staff member to use them, Gartland said.

Public board staff already trained

The English public school board in the area, the Upper Canada District School Board, trained staff at its nearly 100 schools on how to use naloxone kits in the first week of May.

"I think we had an opportunity here where we got notice ahead of a crisis coming," said David Coombs, the board's superintendent of schools.

"We know fentanyl is already in our communities, even in small-town eastern Ontario … it's not nice to think about that these kind of things can happen and do happen within smaller communities, certainly within our region, but we don't want to put our head in the sand."

Both Gartland and Coombs said they didn't know anyone who had overdosed on opioids on one of their school properties.

Similarly, they said all of their schools have defibrillators in case someone goes into cardiac arrest and they hadn't been needed yet either.

"We're public buildings, you never know what comes on a given day and you want to make sure you're prepared for any eventuality," Coombs said.

"Certainly, it's scary. You don't want to be caught not knowing what to do."

Neither of the boards responded to a follow-up request from CBC News asking how much the kits cost.

In Ottawa, both the English public and Catholic boards said they're working on their own plans to equip schools with naloxone kits.

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