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Richmond students, parents divided on proposed naloxone kits in schools

Some parents claimed having naloxone kits in schools would encourage drug use.
naloxone kit
Naloxone kits and AEDs were on the Richmond School District's agenda.

A discussion on having naloxone kits in schools – to reverse an opioid overdose – got heated at Wednesday’s Richmond school board meeting.

Parents, students and community members crowded the school district's boardroom to listen to a discussion on whether naloxone kits should be included in all first aid kits and whether automated external defibrillators (AEDs) should be installed at all schools and district facilities.

During the long and complicated discussion, which lasted around two hours, students expressed interest in having life-saving options available in their schools as “a precaution” in case of accidents.

However, some parents expressed concerns about having naloxone kits in schools.

Richmond parent Colleen Howu acknowledged naloxone kits and AEDs are life-saving methods but said having the former would be contradictory to the district’s no-drug policy.

“It’s a confusing message for students, staff and the public that when we say we do not allow drugs in the school and, on the other hand, when you have naloxone kits on school grounds,” she said.

“It (sounds) more like a supportive measure.”

Parent Dean Billings said the school board should focus on prevention and said he was “concerned” having discussions about naloxone kits is “a distraction.”

“Prevention seems totally your job. That’s education and your job. And I don’t see why that’s not what you’re focusing (on),” said Billings.

“Relative to some other causes that you guys focus, it feels very manipulative – this whole process.”

Board chair rules some comments 'out of order'

During the meeting, two Richmond residents, speaking during question period, were told they were "out of order" by board chair Heather Larson who told them their comments were unrelated to the agenda.

One individual, Vincent (who also didn't give his last name), commented on a “perceived conflict of interest from the parental perspective" of Trustee Debbie Tablotney’s community advocacy for safe supply and harm reduction.

On the other hand, Richmond resident Sheldon Starrett, who is involved with the BC Conservatives, initially spoke in support of the naloxone kits.

However, he then began to talk about the chemical components of drugs and of a safe drug supply “being diverted into schools,” adding that “a couple of trustees on (the) board support safe supply.”

Larson told Starrett his comment was “out of order” and “even the comment as such is not appropriate” before he was asked to end his speaking time.

Naloxone kits are used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose or toxic drug poisoning – a crisis that is killing about six to seven people a day in the province.

In Richmond, eight people died of toxic drugs during the first four months of this year.

Student first responders support naloxone, AEDs

Naloxone can be administered nasally or into muscle tissue. It does not harm anybody but it only works when an individual has opioids in their body.

AEDs are portable devices that can analyze a heart's rhythm and deliver an electric shock to re-establish the heartbeat during a sudden cardiac arrest.

Three McNair students involved in the high school first responder program delivered a presentation on the importance of the program, the idea of a first responders fund to pay for students who wish to enrol in the program and the crucial role of naloxone kits and AEDs.

The students explained to the board there are no naloxone kits currently in their school unless a teacher decides to carry one.

They added the closest AED to McNair secondary is at the caretaker’s house in the back of the school and one incident required a first responder to run and get it “for safety precautions.”

“The first responder course is definitely designed for adults and not for children or anyone below 18 usually, but the entirety of our course were teenagers who are interested in the … program,” the students said during the presentation.

“To have the ability to basically learn all this stuff and have the knowledge to save a life … you realize how much information and how impactful it can be because it is all to help someone else.”

Richmond Secondary student Eric Tian spoke in favour of the naloxone kits as a “great addition” to first aid kits.

“I suppose we can look at this from the perspective of buying insurance. You don’t buy insurance for the hope of getting injured. Rather, it is in case you need it and I think that’s what’s important here,” said Tian.

“You can try and educate students against using drugs, we do all of that, we use DARE. But just in case, even if someone unintentionally uses opioids, even if they just touch it, it can be potentially deadly.”

He added the only concern he had is who would administer naloxone.

Majority of board support naloxone kits

After a lengthy discussion and feedback from the public, Trustee Ken Hamaguchi made the motion to have AEDs and naloxone kits in schools.

“When you look around in our society, we do a great job of educating people on the evils of smoking, drinking, gambling and then all the other vices, but yet it still goes on, even though we do all these proactive strategies,” said Hamaguchi, adding education can only go so far and proactive strategies can’t “bring people back to life.”

He highlighted that he would never want to witness any parent lose their child to a drug overdose or a heart attack.

“I don’t want our kids to be lying on the ground there and not being resuscitated.

“If we really care for our kids, we are going to do everything we can. The kids are worth it.”

Trustee Alice Wong said the school district should delay the decision while staff conduct more research.

She questioned whether the report prepared by district staff for trustees adequately shows Richmond schools need these items and if they are truly "low risk."

Trustee Rod Belleza was also on the fence questioning legal liability and suggestions or opinions from the Ministry of Education and Childcare and Vancouver Coastal Health’s (VCH) on the recommendations.

Chris Stanger, assistant superintendent of SD38, cited VCH who indicated the Richmond School District and the community have a “very low risk” of opioid overdose and cardiac arrests.

“It’s not so much an argument of because we have that risk that we’re putting these (naloxone kits and AEDs) in. We’re looking at these as an augmentation because of the duty of care that we have an obligation to our community,” said Stanger.

Students and staff would be protected, he added, under the Good Samaritan Act during emergencies when it came to liability. He confirmed trained professionals would be the ones applying the tools.

“At the very core, we’re here to educate. We’re here to provide preventative learning so that our students and our employees make good decisions and make good healthy life choices,” said Stanger. However, he added, the school district “cannot guarantee that everybody will make the right choices.”

“In those (unfortunate) situations, we want to make sure that, given the consequences of it, we have the safety measures in place to be able to respond to that in a way that allows us to ensure to the greatest extent possible that they have a positive outcome at the end of that.”

The motion to consider naloxone kits and AEDs in Richmond schools was originally brought forward in December by Tablotney in light of the national overdose crisis that has claimed more than 42,000 lives in Canada.

“Why wouldn’t you have these tools at hand to stop someone from losing their life?” questioned Tablotney.

“It’s a health and safety issue. This is not about drugs; it’s not sending a bad message. We still need to educate our children not to do drugs. We need to educate them that the opioid crisis is dangerous and they are facing drugs that are extremely dangerous – drugs that are tainted,” she said.

“None of us want our students to do drugs, but students experiment and we need to be ready and to respond to an accident or an intentional use that was a booboo, on the part of our kids, because we know they’re going to do things that we don’t want them to do regardless of the parent.”

The motion was passed with trustees Belleza and Wong abstaining from the vote.

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