KSD Staff Ready to Respond to Opiate Overdoses

May 10, 2022, is National Fentanyl Awareness Day

Kearney, Mo., May 10, 2022: Kearney School District Nurse Karen Hughes knows that minutes can mean a lifetime when it comes to drug overdoses, which is why she helped lead the effort to ensure that KSD staff were prepared and equipped to respond.

May 10, 2022, is the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The goal of this day is to raise public awareness about the growing fentanyl public health crisis and to focus national attention on the issue. The day is being organized by Song for Charlie – a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about counterfeit pills – along with dozens of other national and local parent groups, community organizations, and businesses.

Leaders of KSD started responding to the fentanyl crisis in 2019. That’s when Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) alerted local public service agencies and school districts that the powerful opiate was becoming readily available in Clay County. Assistant Superintendent for HR and Student Services Jeff Morrison quickly began collaborating with district nurses to identify steps KSD should take to help mitigate the danger for our students, families and staff.

“When your DHSS identifies your county as a concern, you need to respond to that,” Dr. Morrison said. “So, we started talking about it as a team with our School Resource Officer, school nurses and administrators.”

The KSD responders learned that Narcan nasal spray is the easiest and most effective treatment for fentanyl overdoses. Nurse Hughes took the initiative to find a program that provides the spray free of charge for secondary schools. Narcan was made available at Kearney Middle School, Kearney Junior High School and Kearney High School. In addition, select staff members were trained how and when to use the spray.

“We train our school nurses and other staff members to identify the symptoms of an overdose and respond,” Hughes said. “There’s no harmful side effect of giving Narcan to someone you think is overdosing. Our directive is to go ahead and give it and we will get EMS on the way.”

All that preparation and training paid off earlier this school year when a student started experiencing overdose symptoms after taking illicit fentanyl-laced pills. Staff responded within a couple of minutes and were able to administer two doses of Narcan, which likely saved the student’s life.

That crisis emphasized for Hughes why it’s so important to have anti-overdose medications on-hand in schools and be trained to respond, rather than waiting for emergency medical services to arrive.

“With an overdose, brain damage can start as early as three to five minutes, then death,” Hughes said. “So, having the Narcan available gives us a much better chance of a positive outcome than simply waiting for EMS, even if they can make it to us within 5 minutes.”

KSD’s response to the fentanyl crisis includes collaborating with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Kearney Police Department and Clay County Public Health Department to make the entire community aware of the dangers of illegal opiates. The district hosted a public presentation about the crisis by the Sheriff’s Office this spring at Kearney High School. Deputies noted that it was one of the most well-attended presentations they had held thus far.

“This is a great example of what we as public service providers can accomplish when we work together for the benefit of our residents,” Morrison said. “I appreciate the DHSS and our local law enforcement agencies for bringing this to our attention. They’re trying to be proactive and help us deal with all of these types of situations.”

Visit fentanylawarenessday.org to learn more about the fentanyl crisis and how to respond.