How serious is the country's opioid misuse epidemic? Serious enough for Pennsylvania to call a special session of its legislature and to take several other steps including a push for public schools to stock up on a life-saving, overdose reversal drug.
These steps should make parents of school-aged children feel better, but physicians say families need to keep a watchful eye open as a safety measure so that their child doesn't become the next statistic.
"Across the country, and especially in Pennsylvania, there's been a significant effort made by physicians, law enforcement, politicians and others to take necessary steps to address the staggering statistics related to both prescription opioid pain relievers and the street-drug heroin," says Scott Shapiro MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. "But while progress is being made, we're hardly out of the danger zone."
Denise Salerno, MD, FAAP, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with Dr. Shapiro and points to statistics of high school-aged males. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nationally there were 3,798 opioid overdose deaths in 2014 for those 15 to 24 years old. That means out of 47,055 overall deaths due to opioids, 8 percent were young adults including those of high school age. On top of that, another 109 children age 14 and under died.
"Parents have a good reason to pay close attention to this issue," says Dr. Salerno. "Even though this mostly impacts older people, an unfortunate percentage of school children across the country have become victims of this opioid crisis."
What to ask at Back-to-School Nights
In Pennsylvania, there's been a push to make Naloxone, a drug capable of reversing an opioid overdose, available to public schools.
In early 2016, the commonwealth partnered with Adapt Pharma to provide a free, two-dose carton of Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride) Nasal Spray to public high schools in the state.
High schools can easily participate by submitting an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and following a few easy steps.
Both Dr. Shapiro and Dr. Salerno suggest that concerned parents attending Back-to-School Nights, or other related events, ask the following questions:
1. Does our school maintain a supply of Naloxone? 2. Who has been trained to administer the drug? 3. Are all school personnel aware that this life-saving medication is available within the school, and do they know who is responsible for administering it?
What to look for when at home
Ensuring a safe school environment by asking the right questions to principals, teachers, and administrators is a good start, but having a home environment that fosters safety should also be a priority for parents.
In addition to preventive measures parents can take, they should also educate themselves on possible warning signs of abuse.
To make your home safer, the Pennsylvania Medical Society recommends the following 1. Always keep medications safely stored away when not in use. 2. Regularly clean out your medicine cabinets of leftover medications and properly dispose of prescriptions through drop off locations. 3. If you have a family member at risk of overdose, have Naloxone available in your house, and know how to use it. 4. Never give your medications to a friend or family member for their use.
According to the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, some possible warning signs of medication abuse that parents can look for include
• Drowsiness at unusual times such as during dinner or in the middle of conversations.
• A change in sleep habits.
• Lack of hygiene.
• Frequent flu-like symptoms.
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Changes in exercise habits and/or energy level.
• Reappearance of old bad habits such as smoking.
• Loss of friendships.
• Involvement in theft.
• Changes in good school habits that leads to excessive absences or missing homework assignments.
Also, parents of athletes recovering from injuries or with a past history of injuries should also be closely monitored, particularly if opioids were used within the athletes' treatment plan.
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